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Jell-O Girls: A Family History

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A memoir that braids the evolution of one of America's most iconic branding campaigns with the stirring tales of the women who lived behind its façade - told by the inheritor of their stories. In 1899, Allie Rowbottom's great-great-great-uncle bought the patent to Jell-O from its inventor for $450. The sale would turn out to be one of the most profitable business deals in A A memoir that braids the evolution of one of America's most iconic branding campaigns with the stirring tales of the women who lived behind its façade - told by the inheritor of their stories. In 1899, Allie Rowbottom's great-great-great-uncle bought the patent to Jell-O from its inventor for $450. The sale would turn out to be one of the most profitable business deals in American history, and the generations that followed enjoyed immense privilege - but they were also haunted by suicides, cancer, alcoholism, and mysterious ailments. More than 100 years after that deal was struck, Allie's mother Mary was diagnosed with the same incurable cancer, a disease that had also claimed her own mother's life. Determined to combat what she had come to consider the "Jell-O curse" and her looming mortality, Mary began obsessively researching her family's past, determined to understand the origins of her illness and the impact on her life of Jell-O and the traditional American values the company championed. Before she died in 2015, Mary began to send Allie boxes of her research and notes, in the hope that her daughter might write what she could not. JELL-O GIRLS is the liberation of that story. A gripping examination of the dark side of an iconic American product and a moving portrait of the women who lived in the shadow of its fractured fortune, JELL-O GIRLS is a family history, a feminist history, and a story of motherhood, love and loss. In crystalline prose Rowbottom considers the roots of trauma not only in her own family, but in the American psyche as well, ultimately weaving a story that is deeply personal, as well as deeply connected to the collective female experience.


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A memoir that braids the evolution of one of America's most iconic branding campaigns with the stirring tales of the women who lived behind its façade - told by the inheritor of their stories. In 1899, Allie Rowbottom's great-great-great-uncle bought the patent to Jell-O from its inventor for $450. The sale would turn out to be one of the most profitable business deals in A A memoir that braids the evolution of one of America's most iconic branding campaigns with the stirring tales of the women who lived behind its façade - told by the inheritor of their stories. In 1899, Allie Rowbottom's great-great-great-uncle bought the patent to Jell-O from its inventor for $450. The sale would turn out to be one of the most profitable business deals in American history, and the generations that followed enjoyed immense privilege - but they were also haunted by suicides, cancer, alcoholism, and mysterious ailments. More than 100 years after that deal was struck, Allie's mother Mary was diagnosed with the same incurable cancer, a disease that had also claimed her own mother's life. Determined to combat what she had come to consider the "Jell-O curse" and her looming mortality, Mary began obsessively researching her family's past, determined to understand the origins of her illness and the impact on her life of Jell-O and the traditional American values the company championed. Before she died in 2015, Mary began to send Allie boxes of her research and notes, in the hope that her daughter might write what she could not. JELL-O GIRLS is the liberation of that story. A gripping examination of the dark side of an iconic American product and a moving portrait of the women who lived in the shadow of its fractured fortune, JELL-O GIRLS is a family history, a feminist history, and a story of motherhood, love and loss. In crystalline prose Rowbottom considers the roots of trauma not only in her own family, but in the American psyche as well, ultimately weaving a story that is deeply personal, as well as deeply connected to the collective female experience.

30 review for Jell-O Girls: A Family History

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    This is less about the history of Jello and the struggles of feminism and more about the many woes of a wealthy and destructive family. Blaming all misfortune on a "curse" and the patriarchy came across as dull and self indulgent. I found myself rolling my eyes more often than not. I had to skim the last 50+ pages. The writing was repetitive and lacked self awareness. No recommendation from me.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Stacey

    Food trends have always been of interest to me. Jell-O was a huge deal in the 50's with salads and savory aspics *shudder*. Rowbottom hits on Jell-O's humble beginnings and popularity through the decades. What really piqued my interest was the mysterious illnesses and the Jell-O curse. I couldn't wait to read about something sinister in Jell-O's ingredients that's making people sick. It's a morbid curiosity. The good: Fun historical tidbits about Jell-O, how, when, and where it began. I admire Am Food trends have always been of interest to me. Jell-O was a huge deal in the 50's with salads and savory aspics *shudder*. Rowbottom hits on Jell-O's humble beginnings and popularity through the decades. What really piqued my interest was the mysterious illnesses and the Jell-O curse. I couldn't wait to read about something sinister in Jell-O's ingredients that's making people sick. It's a morbid curiosity. The good: Fun historical tidbits about Jell-O, how, when, and where it began. I admire Amy Rowbottom for writing about her family's history and the connection to Jell-O and the wealth it has brought to her family. The bad: I listened to this and it's a miracle I finished. The author narrates the audio and it was tough to stick with because her voice almost put me to sleep. I didn't learn anything new. Jell-O is completely safe. To my dismay and relief there's nothing sinister in the ingredients. The curse is nothing more than any other family that has lost loved ones to cancer from generation to generation. The 'curse' and mysterious illnesses is not connected to Jell-O the product, but it's heirs.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Leslie

    The book contains shocking, often poetic, imagery to describe the anguish that the author, her mother, and her grandmother endured due to the constraining culture of a "Jell-O" family. But here's the problem: what works as poetry, works less well when writing a memoir/autobiography, because events, locations, descriptions need to be accurate. There are a lot of things here that are inaccurate, begging the question: what really is true? Because I live in LeRoy (the setting for this book), there i The book contains shocking, often poetic, imagery to describe the anguish that the author, her mother, and her grandmother endured due to the constraining culture of a "Jell-O" family. But here's the problem: what works as poetry, works less well when writing a memoir/autobiography, because events, locations, descriptions need to be accurate. There are a lot of things here that are inaccurate, begging the question: what really is true? Because I live in LeRoy (the setting for this book), there is a lot that I know about its institutions, buildings, and history, and because of that, I went on searches to validate other things about the book. From the description of how Jell-O was made in LeRoy to the ending of America's first women's college, there are glaring errors. My full review is here: http://www.thedailynewsonline.com/bdn...

  4. 4 out of 5

    Vara

    As a born and bred Mississippian and feminist who was practically raised on Jello in its myriad forms - and is thrilled by its presence in little old lady salads on my rare trips home - I eagerly anticipated this book. I was incredibly disappointed. This could have been an engaging and successful essay in Vanity Fair complete with family photos. This did not need to be a book. I normally check books out of the Brooklyn library to save money. I actually bought a hardcover copy because the author h As a born and bred Mississippian and feminist who was practically raised on Jello in its myriad forms - and is thrilled by its presence in little old lady salads on my rare trips home - I eagerly anticipated this book. I was incredibly disappointed. This could have been an engaging and successful essay in Vanity Fair complete with family photos. This did not need to be a book. I normally check books out of the Brooklyn library to save money. I actually bought a hardcover copy because the author had a scheduled reading at Books Are Magic. By that time, I was 3/4 of the way through and couldn’t have sat through it without critiquing the work so I skipped out. The author is a decent wordsmith, but the book is disjointed and jumps from place to place. It felt very (and I’m saying this as a “basic white chick”) poor me, I’m a rich heiress and I feel bad about how my family got its money but I don’t have much wisdom to pass on and I’m not going to give up the privilege it gives me. No knocking using family money - don’t we all wish we could have that these days - but seriously, I don’t need to read an uninteresting book about your oppression by men. Yes, these women were placed in crappy situations by men but arguably their wealth prevented them from being put in even crappier, more oppressive places like the average female Jello consumer. I would have preferred a book by the African-American nanny’s children who (likely) felt neglected as their mom had to work round the clock for the Jello children. That would have been a far more interesting perspective. I can’t. So relieved it’s over and wondering why I make myself finish every book. Ahhhh.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Aja Gabel

    This book is an utter phenomenon. You will start it and be unable to put it down. What Rowbottom accomplishes here is seamless: heartbreaking confession and cultural history, exacting personal observation and important feminist text for our times.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    Jell-O Girls AKA The Patriarchy Is terrible Even If You're A Rich White Lady I was expecting either the dark underbelly to the wholesome Jell-O company or some great family drama about the creators of Jell-O, but what I got was the story of three woman who came into Jell-O money despite not ever having anything to really do with the company. Also, they were miserable because the patriarchy is terrible. The first woman had kids and didn't find motherhood rewarding. She then dies early. Her daughte Jell-O Girls AKA The Patriarchy Is terrible Even If You're A Rich White Lady I was expecting either the dark underbelly to the wholesome Jell-O company or some great family drama about the creators of Jell-O, but what I got was the story of three woman who came into Jell-O money despite not ever having anything to really do with the company. Also, they were miserable because the patriarchy is terrible. The first woman had kids and didn't find motherhood rewarding. She then dies early. Her daughter believes in the Jell-O curse for a while only to discover that it's just small town oppression. She is groomed by her older cousin and loses her virginity to him, is never fully allowed to come to terms with her mother's sudden death, is cheated on by her husband, and eventually dies after many battles with cancer. Our narrator is her daughter. She is trying to figure out how to deal with all that she has inherited from these two women. Their silence, grief, secrets, and pain. The one thing I really enjoyed was how the writer used the inception of Jell-O, and its use of advertising to act as a sort of yard stick for not only the company, but also America and the plight of women. Enjoy this book with your favorite Jell-O creation.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Elaine

    After reading Jell-O Girls: A Family History, I think the author and her mother were victims of what is known as a self fulfilling prophecy. The author's mother, Mary, was told about a curse that befell the men in the family. Naturally, when bad things happened to her, she became convinced it was due to the curse. Not because she was surrounded by predatory men and perverts. Not because she was too afraid to speak up and acknowledge her muteness and lack of initiative. We all make mistakes. We're After reading Jell-O Girls: A Family History, I think the author and her mother were victims of what is known as a self fulfilling prophecy. The author's mother, Mary, was told about a curse that befell the men in the family. Naturally, when bad things happened to her, she became convinced it was due to the curse. Not because she was surrounded by predatory men and perverts. Not because she was too afraid to speak up and acknowledge her muteness and lack of initiative. We all make mistakes. We're human. No shame in that. But I can't sympathize with a person who is unable or unwilling to acknowledge the mistakes and/or choices she or he made of their own volition and fail to hold themselves accountable. The author spends an egregious amount of time trying to convince us that Jell-O is to blame for the misfortunes her mother and grandmother suffered that I began to wonder if she was really trying to persuade us or herself? Blaming the rigid conservative community in which they lived and grew up in, their patriarchal values and ideals and being forced to conform to them even as Mary and, later the author herself, continually sought a man for approval, validation and to boost their lack of self esteem. Repetitive dialogue about the patriarchy and how Jell-O marketing contributed to those conformist beliefs yet Mary has no problems being an artist and living off the proceeds of her inheritance. Mary is stricken with cancer and blames the curse because she's obviously never heard of BAD GENETICS. YOU HAVE THEM. The prose slogs and tended to sound self-indulgent, almost self-serving at times, as the author kept trying to remind the reader that “Jell-O is evil even though we made Scrooge McDuck money off it and lived quite well on it.” I have no doubt that the marketing for the famous brand was biased and sexist (what a shock!) and that the author and her family were troubled and damaged. But you know what? So's most of us. No one comes from a Norman Rockwell painting. Every family has issues, drama, tragedy and secrets. It's how you deal with it that defines who you are, not by placing the blame on a foodstuff and ignoring the poor choices you made. The last 70 pages of the book was an agonizing recap of Mary's relapse and her death. I skimmed it. My advice: skip this book and don't eat Jell-O. It's full of preservatives. Eat Cheetos instead! You don't have to make it!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Janelle • She Reads with Cats

    Many thanks to Little Brown and Company for my free copy of JELL-O GIRLS by Allie Rowbottom - all opinions are my own. This is such a complex and fascinating memoir. Yes, it’s about Jell-O, but it’s so much more! The book covers three main topics: the history of the company including how it was founded, the plethora of health issues that ravaged Rowbottom’s family, and of course, the Jell-O curse! Jell-O was purchased in 1899 for $450 then sold twenty years later for $67 million dollars. This lef Many thanks to Little Brown and Company for my free copy of JELL-O GIRLS by Allie Rowbottom - all opinions are my own. This is such a complex and fascinating memoir. Yes, it’s about Jell-O, but it’s so much more! The book covers three main topics: the history of the company including how it was founded, the plethora of health issues that ravaged Rowbottom’s family, and of course, the Jell-O curse! Jell-O was purchased in 1899 for $450 then sold twenty years later for $67 million dollars. This left a legacy of wealth, prestige, and privilege to the maternal side of Rowbottom’s family, but it appears this legacy is more of a curse than a blessing. Rowbottom tells her family’s story as she sees it and it is beautifully written. I was captivated from beginning to end and pleasantly surprised by the lyrical and poetic writing style. Oddly enough I really enjoyed the historical chapters on Jell-O as a cultural icon and, of course I was totally engrossed by the family’s history of alcoholism, suicide, and cancer. The imagery and descriptions are vivid and you get a front row seat of what happened with the original Jell-O heirs. Is it really a curse? I don’t know, but I love the different ways Rowbottom explores these theories, mainly focusing on her mother and grandmother. You see how passionate she is about understanding what and how these ailments occurred. Also, the memoir touches lightly on feminism and how women were sometimes coerced into being homemakers instead of pursuing their dreams. JELL-O GIRLS is an intelligent, interesting, and thought-provoking memoir full of fun facts and nostalgia. Highly recommended!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Biblio Files (takingadayoff)

    Many of the early reviews of The Jell-O Girls describe it as a feminist book. I wish I could see it that way, but I don't. There are several stories here fighting for attention in The Jell-O Girls. The one that takes up the most space is that of the author, her mother, and her grandmother, all heirs to the Jell-O fortune. In addition to the triple biography, there's the company history of Jell-O and the social history of how Jell-O was received and how it has been used and adapted over the years Many of the early reviews of The Jell-O Girls describe it as a feminist book. I wish I could see it that way, but I don't. There are several stories here fighting for attention in The Jell-O Girls. The one that takes up the most space is that of the author, her mother, and her grandmother, all heirs to the Jell-O fortune. In addition to the triple biography, there's the company history of Jell-O and the social history of how Jell-O was received and how it has been used and adapted over the years. That was pretty interesting, especially in the analysis of the advertising for Jell-O. And finally, there was a third story about a group of schoolgirls in 2009 near the Jell-O factory, who came down with odd medical symptoms that could not be explained other than the usual cop-out of "mass hysteria." I found this the least compelling of the threads. In the memoir/biography sections, the author was trying to address a family myth about a curse that afflicts the Jell-O men. She set out to show that the curse was also, or perhaps only, on the Jell-O women. The curse seemed to be poor health as well as the burden of too much money and not enough purpose. It's hard to see how these afflictions were unique to Jell-O heirs, since many people have poor health or lack purpose in life. Rowbottom decided that the curse was actually patriarchy. The women in the family were held back by the men. Well, once again, this hardly seems unique to Jell-O heirs. So, a mixed bag with some parts more interesting than others. (Thanks to NetGalley and Little, Brown & Company for a digital review copy.)

  10. 5 out of 5

    Debbie Zapata

    Saw this in the new book section of the library last week and since I had read an interesting excerpt recently, I decided to grab the book itself. The story tells the life of three women: the author's Grandmother Midge, the author's mother Mary, and the author herself. We learn how these three women either faced or hid from the major issues in their lives. We learn what contributed to their outlooks on life, and we learn about Jell-O and its influence on the author's family. Well, let's say the f Saw this in the new book section of the library last week and since I had read an interesting excerpt recently, I decided to grab the book itself. The story tells the life of three women: the author's Grandmother Midge, the author's mother Mary, and the author herself. We learn how these three women either faced or hid from the major issues in their lives. We learn what contributed to their outlooks on life, and we learn about Jell-O and its influence on the author's family. Well, let's say the fortunes made from Jell-O, to be exact. This is a very readable book; I got caught up right away and could hardly put it down, finishing it late the other night when I should have been trying harder to get to sleep. There are many fascinating bits of Jell-O history and the train wreck of the three women's lives is hard to look away from. But at times the narrative seems whiny and strident. Yes, there were issues from 'patriarchy' that Midge could not confront, and yes, there was influence on all women from the advertising used to promote Jell-O, but to completely blame personal traumas on such things is for me going a bit too far. A person needs to have the character to know themselves and the courage to BE themselves, whether or not 'society' approves. No one has to accept what others say they should do or be. But each woman here was like a repeat of the one before, making the same bad decisions (drugs and drinking), allowing the 'silence' to affect them to the point of obsessive compulsive behavior and eating disorders. [Speaking of eating disorders, if you have sensitivity to such issues, this may be a dangerous book for you, so be forewarned. Once you get to the author's personal storyline, there may be many triggers.] I think the hugely glaring fault here was that when Midge got cancer no one explained it to Mary and she never understood or was prepared for the fact that her mother could die. This is the typical American fear of acknowledging a natural part of life. Death is something we all face. It is simply the final step we will take here and the first we will take wherever we go next. Nothing to be afraid of and certainly nothing to hide from. How different might these women's lives have been if they had been able to discuss this topic?

  11. 4 out of 5

    Lauren

    Smoothly written and highly readable--but also basically unbearable. Rowbottom mashes up a couple of topics here: the history of Jell-O (which her family bought the patent for early on), the various ways cultural pressures shape women's lives, and her particular family history of unhappiness and illness. I'm not opposed to any of these topics and not even necessarily opposed to them all being combined into one book, but I am opposed to Rowbottom overselling her argument to the point that it beco Smoothly written and highly readable--but also basically unbearable. Rowbottom mashes up a couple of topics here: the history of Jell-O (which her family bought the patent for early on), the various ways cultural pressures shape women's lives, and her particular family history of unhappiness and illness. I'm not opposed to any of these topics and not even necessarily opposed to them all being combined into one book, but I am opposed to Rowbottom overselling her argument to the point that it becomes ludicrous. Instead of lightly and naturally letting the history of Jell-O progress alongside her story, letting it move from novelty to significant jobs provider to fading nostalgia product, from dessert to salad to diet food to snack, and letting advertising's struggle to keep up with changing cultural mores be a part of that story, Rowbottom... makes it seem like Jell-O is part of some sinister force ruining the lives of women everywhere. Also, she's dismissive and unfair about Megan Abbott's The Fever, and if you know me and my love for Megan Abbott, you'll know how angry that made me. Anyway, this determination to justify her combination of topics gets desperate sometimes: Teaching women, it turns out, was a tenet of Jell-O's marketing. Door-to-door salesmen taught housewives what to do with America's Most Famous Dessert. Advertisements carefully explained the preparation process: Dissolve one packet into one pot of boiling water. Pour into mold and set in a cool place to harden. Later advertisements featured specific recipes or suggested consumers send away for the rhyming booklets full of them. How sweet and cunning these booklets were, teaching women all over America how to make the perfect Christmas fruit mold, Cherry Cheese Charmer, cranberry squares; teaching women how to mold their Jell-O, so pliable, so good; teaching them how to mold themselves to match it, pliable and good. Look, under normal circumstances you would not have to exert yourself much to convince me that Jell-O, in the days of creepy Jell-O salads with mayonnaise in them, is evil, but come on. It's misogynistic for manufacturers to... explain how their product works? To try to emphasize that there are lots of different ways to use it? How the hell does any of this mean Jell-O is coercing women into limited roles? And this is not an atypical passage. Rowbottom is also obsessed with the "Jell-O curse," a family legend seemingly created by men convinced that the money was a curse because it attracted "the women who chase it," and instead of really doing anything with this particular bit of sexism--it's ambitious for men to want money, but it's wrong for women to want it--Rowbottom leans hard on her reinterpretation of the curse. Wherein the curse is patriarchy. Which is not unique to Jell-O, except apparently Jell-O is either behind or at least symbolic of Everything Wrong With the World, Ever: But in years to come, [the story of the curse] would haunt my mother, who came to fear the curse because she was a woman, not despite it. The curse, she told me, was the very attitude Cousin John--like most men--took toward women, an attitude reflected by the messages about women and their worth that her family sold with each box of Jell-O. The curse was the myth that the love and approval of a man like John was something to be earned, something that would bring us women all the happiness we could ever dream of. This myth was, my mother believed, particularly strong in LeRoy, the culture of which was so small-minded and nostalgic and terrified of change that it pressured women into prescribed roles, stifling their voices and making them sick. The sickness here appears to be anything from unexplained tics and convulsions (the girls of LeRoy) to mental illness to cancer. And again, Rowbottom inexplicably ignores or minimizes actual examples of her subject. You'd think that her mother's cancer, ignored by doctors for two years because it was blamed on "hysteria," would be front and center, but while Rowbottom does talk about the sexism women sometimes face from the medical establishment, it still winds up seeming like a less significant and looming force than Jell-O. And despite Rowbottom's best efforts, I'm unconvinced that every example of mental illness in her family was caused by the patriarchy--worsened by it? Sure. But a lot of the symptoms we see here are those of depression, not constraint. In fact, the one factor that does seem at first to be definitively related to sexist forces--her mother's cramped-up, paralyzed hand and sickness after her first time having sex (wanted but unhappy, and the man is dismissive of her afterwards)--later turns out to be possibly genetic after all. Mary's paralysis and catatonia after sex could be related to the way it resurrected the memory of her childhood sexual assault, when she was too unsure to call for help... but then her daughter experiences the same thing a generation later while also having unhappy sex. And while she has mental health issues of her own, also tied to gender (anorexia, in particular), they come from different directions than her mother's, and it seems strange that the phenomenon would present itself in the same way without a genetic factor. Then again, I have to say that I would question the literal truth of a lot of this story. I'm willing to believe that Rowbottom knows this much about her mother's life, but Mary was only in her early teens when her own mother, Midge, died, and we get Midge's postpartum depression, sense of isolation, and Betty Friedan-style despair here from her perspective, with no indication that she was so careless or cruel as to convey her deep ambivalence about her children to them before her death. So presumably either Rowbottom or Mary, whose memoir she draws from, is extrapolating a lot here. It's convenient that that extrapolation neatly fits with Rowbottom's themes. Ultimately, this book made me angry. Rowbottom's portrayal of the patriarchy and the complex interaction of consumerism on American womanhood isn't illuminating but falsely limiting: she attributes so much power to these forces that women come across as having no power at all, or at least no power that they could ever use unwisely. In the world of Jell-O Girls, anything bad that happens is because of the patriarchy; if you use your own voice and make your own choices, they're automatically good and true. If they're not good and true, if they hurt you, then it must be that it was because you were subconsciously influenced by the "curse." This flattens the female characters of Rowbottom's memoir, even when she wants to portray them as heroic. It's a shame, because the writing is genuinely good and the subjects are interesting ones that could have been better explored. And when Rowbottom can step away from the Evils of Jell-O and the Overwhelming Curse, she can summon up a raw, heartbreaking power: she's particularly good when writing about the awful endlessness of her mother's treatments for her repeated incidents of cancer. That makes me think this should have been purely a family memoir--three troubled generations of women--but instead of trusting the material to carry itself, Rowbottom grafted a pop history onto it and wove a treatise into it. She would have been better served by letting the reader come to some of their own conclusions.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Erin Farmer

    Do not recommend. I love a good family drama, but this was snoozeville. This is the actual story of the Jell-O dynasty apparently. The women are "cursed." ZZZZzzzzzzZZZZZzzz The author also did the narration and nearly put me to sleep. If you read this one, I don't recommend the audio.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Cathie

    I was looking forward to this read about the history of jell-o for my food writing blog. However, my expectations were cut short as I began to read. This is more of a memoir about a family stricken with illness in its many forms. It was a bit too depressing for me. There are bits about jell-o: marketing efforts including the Crosby scandal, and where jell-o has and is today, for example, in the hospital setting. There's always jell-o on the menu... I wasn’t expecting a huge portion of the book to I was looking forward to this read about the history of jell-o for my food writing blog. However, my expectations were cut short as I began to read. This is more of a memoir about a family stricken with illness in its many forms. It was a bit too depressing for me. There are bits about jell-o: marketing efforts including the Crosby scandal, and where jell-o has and is today, for example, in the hospital setting. There's always jell-o on the menu... I wasn’t expecting a huge portion of the book to be devoted towards the family curse and cancer. Perhaps I could've read the blurb, that it is more about the curse...even though it was prior to the family buying the patent. Thank you Little Brown for the ARC. Wished there was more about jell-o, but this is more of a memoir. And one memoir readers would enjoy.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Tory

    Okay, so supposedly there's this curse on the family that owns the Jell-O copyright. Creepy! The men in the family all die because of...well, money? Like, they marry gold-diggers and then end up broke and commit suicide. Alrighty, sounds like less of a curse than just poor choices, but okay. Except the mother of the author of this book decides that SHE is going to be the first WOMAN that the curse affects. She's got a bad feeling about it or something. And then she gets cancer! A lot of cancer! Okay, so supposedly there's this curse on the family that owns the Jell-O copyright. Creepy! The men in the family all die because of...well, money? Like, they marry gold-diggers and then end up broke and commit suicide. Alrighty, sounds like less of a curse than just poor choices, but okay. Except the mother of the author of this book decides that SHE is going to be the first WOMAN that the curse affects. She's got a bad feeling about it or something. And then she gets cancer! A lot of cancer! All the time! ...but is that the curse? Because I thought money was the curse? No, no, the curse is SCARY CHEMICALS from JELL-O that CAUSES CANCER. But also it's the PATRIARCHY, forcing women into the kitchens to make Jell-O for their families, and the enforced silence of these women METASTASIZES INTO CANCER. Lololololololol this book seriously needed to decide WHAT the curse really was. Because it started off as money, and then became THE PATRIARCHY, and CANCER, and CHEMICALS (ooooooh super spoopy chemicals). Whatever. Pretty damn weaksauce. (And you are not scaring me away from my damn Jell-O. Everything will give you cancer. That's life.)

  15. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    What the heck is going on here? This book is all over the place. I gave up.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Sherrie

    This contains very little about Jello but does include every gory detail about the author’s grandmother and mother suffering through cancer, turning this into the saddest book ever. DNF

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jeanne

    I read this ARC and was just expecting a family history. It is so very much more. I was stunned reading about all the ways women are silenced. Not in a violent way but through history it has become so subtle and insidious. I've always felt I'm a strong woman but I even could see ways that I have been swayed just in making me believe I was needing to change. Very interesting read. I'm aware of the history of women but to read the subtleness of advertisements, see how the association of "you're ju I read this ARC and was just expecting a family history. It is so very much more. I was stunned reading about all the ways women are silenced. Not in a violent way but through history it has become so subtle and insidious. I've always felt I'm a strong woman but I even could see ways that I have been swayed just in making me believe I was needing to change. Very interesting read. I'm aware of the history of women but to read the subtleness of advertisements, see how the association of "you're just anxious" as a diagnosis all in this one family and small town was moving and educational.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Cynthia

    I really liked the first quarter of this book, and then I started to lose interest. My opinion will be in the minority, I’m sure, but it just didn’t work for me. Bummed.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Donna Bailey

    Ok book. Guess I was hoping for less misery and more jello

  20. 5 out of 5

    Betsy Crawford

    I have been on the waiting list to read this book for a while so I was very excited to take it with me to the beach. What a complete disappointment! This is such a load of self-indulgent bull$ht. Do not waste your time.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jen

    Holy whoa did I enjoy this book. The author comes from "Jell-o money" and with it comes a curse that has supposedly plagued her family members and the town of LeRoy, NY since they bought Jell-o from its original inventor for $400 in 1899. Rowbottom seamlessly weaves together the history of the popular dessert with her mother's unfinished, unpublished memoir and stories from her own life to create what's quickly become one of my favorite nonfiction reads of 2018. What do Jell-o and the patriarchy Holy whoa did I enjoy this book. The author comes from "Jell-o money" and with it comes a curse that has supposedly plagued her family members and the town of LeRoy, NY since they bought Jell-o from its original inventor for $400 in 1899. Rowbottom seamlessly weaves together the history of the popular dessert with her mother's unfinished, unpublished memoir and stories from her own life to create what's quickly become one of my favorite nonfiction reads of 2018. What do Jell-o and the patriarchy have in common? You're gonna have to read to find out!

  22. 4 out of 5

    Lucinda

    Why do I keep reading these miserable books? Poor little rich girls, the family "curse", the horrors of Jell-O, and on and on. Maybe the family curse was not jello and money, but mental illness. Drugs, impersonal sex, anorexia,and various other self destructive behaviors are more personality disorders than a "curse' because of a family fortune. Get out of your own head and do something for someone else! Ugh! And I am sorry, but I do not think Jell-O was responsible for keeping women in the home. Why do I keep reading these miserable books? Poor little rich girls, the family "curse", the horrors of Jell-O, and on and on. Maybe the family curse was not jello and money, but mental illness. Drugs, impersonal sex, anorexia,and various other self destructive behaviors are more personality disorders than a "curse' because of a family fortune. Get out of your own head and do something for someone else! Ugh! And I am sorry, but I do not think Jell-O was responsible for keeping women in the home. Too many disagreements to go into. Hard to have any sympathetic feelings for anybody in this book. And I refuse to blame Jell-O for all of societies ills.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Janday

    A fascinating, generational biography/memior of three heiresses and their individual interpretations of their family "curse." Rowbottom covers feminism, family drama, and the fate of sick girls in the hands of a patriarchal medical system. For fans of sweeping family stories, repressed New England histories, and the lives of women behind the scenes of very public histories.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Mehrsa

    So tedious. The bits about Jell-o and American culture were interesting and there were moments of good writing in here, but most of the book is a memoir written by a third person about nothing much. Then the latter part is a memoir about nothing but normal rich people problems.

  25. 5 out of 5

    KC

    Jell-O, the jiggly vibrant treat has been a staple in homes throughout the country for centuries, but behind the "wholesome" family dessert lies a patriarchal legacy. In Allie Rowbottom's autobiography, she discovers and then uncovers the empires true colors and the effects this legendary brand had on her grandmother Midge and mother Mary. Was Rowbottom destined for the same fate? An outstanding look at fame, fortune and family. I was pleasantly surprised and equally amazed by this story.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Movies Silently

    As a fan of food-related memoirs and food history in general, I was excited to read this book. Learning the fate of the Jell-o family seemed to be an interesting marketing angle for a memoir but... that's all it turned out to be, an angle. The author is a shirttail relative of the Jell-o family, the historical details are basically nothing more than a few internet listicles with no further details on the product or its marketing that are not already known to food history nerds. The discussion of As a fan of food-related memoirs and food history in general, I was excited to read this book. Learning the fate of the Jell-o family seemed to be an interesting marketing angle for a memoir but... that's all it turned out to be, an angle. The author is a shirttail relative of the Jell-o family, the historical details are basically nothing more than a few internet listicles with no further details on the product or its marketing that are not already known to food history nerds. The discussion of the patriarchy and how it was intermingled with Jell-o could have been interesting but none of the aspects really seemed to gel, if you will forgive the pun. What we are left with is the memoir of someone who is kinda related to Jell-o if you squint and who doesn't really bring new insight into the history of same. That might have been okay if the book had not been called Jell-o Girls and marketed to tie in with the product. If you are interested in food history and how gelatins came to dominate American dinner tables, I highly recommend Perfection Salad by Laura Shapiro. This book will probably be okay if you are just in for the memoir aspect but I think many people were drawn to the Jell-o angle and will likely be disappointed when it does not deliver.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Becki

    The books was SO misleading. Yes she does write her family history and yes their family has ties to Jell-O's beginnings but it was SUCH a dreary, poor read. Was expecting more indepth history of Jell-O and how it tied to the family. She basically tries to tie every unhappy woman in her family to a curse of Jell-O against women and their happiness and success etc. I feel for some of the things they go through but MOST of the book never ties back into Jell-O though she periodically touches base wi The books was SO misleading. Yes she does write her family history and yes their family has ties to Jell-O's beginnings but it was SUCH a dreary, poor read. Was expecting more indepth history of Jell-O and how it tied to the family. She basically tries to tie every unhappy woman in her family to a curse of Jell-O against women and their happiness and success etc. I feel for some of the things they go through but MOST of the book never ties back into Jell-O though she periodically touches base with the topic. Waste of time.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Shirley Conley

    * This was the worst. Ungrateful and self-destructive rich people. The documentation of the terrible suffering and death of the author’s mother was so depressing. It was bad enough that the author went through this experience but to document it gross! Was she trying to say that Jell-O caused the deaths in the story? ½* This was the worst. Ungrateful and self-destructive rich people. The documentation of the terrible suffering and death of the author’s mother was so depressing. It was bad enough that the author went through this experience but to document it gross! Was she trying to say that Jell-O caused the deaths in the story?

  29. 5 out of 5

    Chelsea Hodson

    I loved this book. I wouldn’t typically reach for a “family history,” but this is one of those books that transcends its genre and becomes an utterly alive, surprising, poetic, and singular story that only Allie Rowbottom could write. This is a book for anyone who rejects the cultural standards they’re instructed to uphold, and instead set out to write their own stories.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Susan Mabry

    Not going to lie, this was a very tough book to listen to. Depressing, horrifying, and magnifying the oppression of women during the JELLO empire... i listened to it on CloudLibrary and Allie Rowbottom herself read it out loud. There was a lot of pain and suffering during these three generations of grandmother, mother and daughter relationships and it was a coming-of-age for each one. My heart went out to each lady and felt some of the same societal pressures that women have faced since the 60’s Not going to lie, this was a very tough book to listen to. Depressing, horrifying, and magnifying the oppression of women during the JELLO empire... i listened to it on CloudLibrary and Allie Rowbottom herself read it out loud. There was a lot of pain and suffering during these three generations of grandmother, mother and daughter relationships and it was a coming-of-age for each one. My heart went out to each lady and felt some of the same societal pressures that women have faced since the 60’s. Am I glad I downloaded it? Absolutely! It was very insightful on how women NEED to have a VOICE and feel valued in their communities and families. It was beautiful to watch Mary and her daughter metamorphosis into a full and complete mentor to each other. 4 stars.

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