Review: The Chicken Sisters by KJ Dell’Antonia

by Heather Caliendo
book review the chicken sisters - book club chat

The Chicken Sisters by KJ Dell’Antonia is such a breath of fresh air! A fun and enjoyable story that will make you crave fried chicken.

I’ve been following Reese’s Book Club closely this year and she’s had some fantastic picks! Starting off with Such a Fun Age to The Henna Artist to Untamed, I’ve enjoyed reading many of her selections. Some have been way more serious than others. So I have to say, I’m really glad she went with a lighter type read in The Chicken Sisters to finish out 2020. I think we all needed a heartwarming story to wrap up the year. Excited to see all the selections she makes next year!

I wouldn’t be surprised to see The Chicken Sisters made into a Netflix film or TV series. It features small-town Kansas, rival fried chicken restaurants, complicated family dynamics—all with the backdrop of a Food Network-inspired reality show. I kind of wonder if Reese is already of thinking of casting herself as one of the roles (most likely Mae in my opinion).

The synopsis

In tiny Merinac, Kansas, Chicken Mimi’s and Chicken Frannie’s have spent a century vying to serve up the best fried chicken in the state–and the legendary feud between their respective owners, the Moores and the Pogociellos, has lasted just as long. No one feels the impact more than thirty-five-year-old widow Amanda Moore, who grew up working for her mom at Mimi’s before scandalously marrying Frank Pogociello and changing sides to work at Frannie’s. Tired of being caught in the middle, Amanda sends an SOS to Food Wars, the reality TV restaurant competition that promises $100,000 to the winner. But in doing so, she launches both families out of the frying pan and directly into the fire. . . 

The last thing Brooklyn-based organizational guru Mae Moore, Amanda’s sister, wants is to go home to Kansas. But when her career implodes, helping the fading Mimi’s look good on Food Wars becomes Mae’s best chance to reclaim the limelight–even if doing so pits her against Amanda and Frannie’s. Yet when family secrets become public knowledge, the sisters must choose: Will they fight with each other, or for their heritage?

Sister wars

We read the story from the perspectives of Mae and Amanda—two sisters who couldn’t be more different. Mae left behind small-town Kansas for New York where she was featured on a HGTV-inspired show. She hasn’t been back home in years and had no plans to return anytime soon, but when she’s pushed off the show, she hopes Food Wars will be her ticket back to stardom. Mae is bossy and persistent but the author KJ Dell’Antonia really peels back the layers on her and we get to know her beyond the tough exterior.

Whereas Amanda never left home. Her big act of rebellion is marrying Frank and working at the rival chicken shop, Frannie’s. She’s as honest as they come and can be a bit of a pushover. But she also feels stagnant and hopes Food Wars will be the ticket to get out of a rut. We really see quite an evolution in Amanda as the story progresses.

And as you can imagine, these two sisters don’t get along very well. They both don’t understand each other and think they have nothing in common. The Food Wars eventually becomes more like Sister Wars as family secrets are pushed to the forefront. It gets pretty intense at times between the two sisters— goes way beyond fried chicken! But what pushes them apart, might be the catalyst to bring them together.

The setting

I really enjoyed the setting in small-town Kansas. It was quite refreshing and a break from so many stories taking place in large cities. I thought it was interesting to read about how this small-town has evolved and even has a fancy coffee shop now! I’m originally from Oklahoma and every time we go back to visit, I’m amazed at how much the area continues to change for the better.

And let’s get into the fried chicken component!! I’m currently seven months pregnant as I write this review and I have to say, I was really wanting some solid fried chicken as I read the story. Sadly, Phoenix doesn’t really have any places like they do in other parts of the country.

It’s such a creative concept to have these rival fried chicken shops go head-to-head in a competition. The author KJ Dell’Antonia said that her memories of the two chicken restaurants in the Kansas towns where her parents grew up sparked the creation of Chicken Mimi’s and Chicken Frannie’s, the two restaurants at the center of The Chicken Sisters, and the story grew from there. I’m curious to learn the story behind the real chicken restaurants!

Book clubs will have a lot of fun discussing The Chicken Sisters—you won’t go wrong with this pick. Check out my book club questions here.

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2 comments

Ken Allen December 13, 2020 - 2:39 pm

Chicken Sisters sounds much like Chicken Annie’s and Chicken Mary’s located side by side out in the countryside of Pittsburg, Kansas. They were featured in Food Wars on the Travel Channel as well.

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Heather Caliendo December 21, 2020 - 12:28 pm

Good to know, Ken! Oh I would love to see that episode.

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