Today’s Shelf Awareness Maximum Shelf pick is Erin French’s heart-stopping memoir, FINDING FREEDOM: A Cook’s Story; Remaking a Life from Scratch.
Make your way to Freedom, Maine, and you will find both an exquisite meal and a vivid memory. After the flood of calls for dinner reservations crashed the restaurant’s phone lines, Erin knew she had to make a change. To eat at The Lost Kitchen, you’ll need a postage stamp and a bit of luck. Requests are made by snail mail, and if you’re one of the lucky few whose postcard has been plucked from the over twenty thousand cards received, you’ll find yourself in the soft glow of a Maine summer night. You’ll cross the footbridge extending over Freedom Falls, and the shingled mill will come into view, nestled into the great granite bedrock perched above the rushing water. The Lost Kitchen. Found. When you enter, Erin greets you with a warm smile, as if she’s welcoming you to a dinner party in her own home, because this is home. Despite what she once believed, it was here in her hometown of Freedom, Maine, where she was told dreams went to die, that she found a good life.
In FINDING FREEDOM, Erin shows us her life as an exuberant child, roaming barefoot and gleeful on a 25-acre farm, despite facing constant feelings of disappointment from her father, who had always dreamed of a son. We see her as a teenager, falling in love with food while working the line at the family diner, determined to fight her way out of Maine to a better life. And, finally, she emerges as a woman, finding her calling as a professional chef at her beloved restaurant tucked inside a 19th century gristmill. But that woman has another story: one of multiple rock-bottoms, of darkness and anxiety, of the pills that promised to pull her up only to push her even lower, of a man who offered salvation only to rip it all away. And of the beautiful son who was her guiding light as she rebuilt herself. And of the solace she found in food—as a source of comfort, a sense of place, as a way to connect with the world and bring goodness into it.
Erin’s experiences with survival, with single-motherhood, with addiction and recovery, with deep loss and, eventually, abiding hope will resonate with readers everywhere—those who are determined to find their own voices, create community, grow stronger and discover their best selves, despite seemingly impossible odds. FINDING FREEDOM will inspire you. It will fill you up and leave you grateful. It will call you home to Freedom, to that little slice of Maine heaven, and the dinner that awaits you there.
“Cooking and baking, flower arranging, the fine art of plating and the writing of this memoir contribute to a profile of a woman driven to create beauty even out of pain. The narrator’s voice is vulnerable, her trauma is real and visceral but, by the end, this is a delicious, feel-good redemption tale.”–Shelf Awareness