Jell-O Girls: A Family History

Allie Rowbottom. Little, Brown, $28 (288p) ISBN 978-0-316-51061-5
In this intimate and intriguing debut memoir, Rowbottom explores the lives of the women in her family, specifically her mother and grandmother, members of the family that once owned the Jell-O company. She evaluates 100-plus years of Jell-O’s marketing campaigns through a feminist lens, exploring how Jell-O presented itself as a quick and easy dessert solution for white, middle-class women who, at the turn of the century, found themselves alone in the kitchen without “maids and nannies and cooks.” Rowbottom describes Jell-O’s early campaigns (“Teaching women, it turns out, was a tenet of Jell-O’s marketing... Jell-O, so pliable, so good, teaching them how to mold themselves to match it, pliable and good”) and provides a history of food’s role in the American imagination—including the low-calorie-food trend and later ad campaigns that sold Jell-O based on nostalgia. At the same time, Rowbottom explores how the women in her own family negotiated the social constructs of the times and within the family business: her grandmother Midge gave up her own aspirations to write when she had children; later, her mother Mary’s health complaints were ignored and dismissed as “hysterical” by doctors, resulting in a late cancer diagnosis. Throughout, Rowbottom asserts that a curse afflicted her family: “The curse was patriarchy.” Though Rowbottom’s focus on the “curse” sometimes distracts from the narrative, her memoir offers a fascinating feminist history of both a company and a family. (July)
Reviewed on: 01/22/2018
Release date: 07/24/2018
Paperback - 288 pages - 978-0-316-51062-2
Compact Disc - 978-1-5491-4476-9
Compact Disc - 978-1-5491-4473-8
Library Binding - 978-1-4328-5414-0
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