Jell-O Girls
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.

Jell-O Girls Details

TitleJell-O Girls
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseJul 24th, 2018
PublisherLittle, Brown
ISBN-139780316510615
Rating
GenreNonfiction, Autobiography, Memoir, History, Biography

Jell-O Girls Review

  • Aja Gabel
    January 1, 1970
    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.
  • Biblio Files (takingadayoff)
    January 1, 1970
    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.)
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  • Leslie
    January 1, 1970
    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...
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  • Tory
    January 1, 1970
    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.)
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  • Cathie
    January 1, 1970
    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 at this time. 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 o 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 at this time. 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.
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  • Melissa
    January 1, 1970
    Jell-O Girls AKA The Patriarchy Is terrible Even IF You Are A Rich White LadyI 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 daught Jell-O Girls AKA The Patriarchy Is terrible Even IF You Are A Rich White LadyI 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 looses 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.
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  • Janday
    January 1, 1970
    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.
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  • Jeanne
    January 1, 1970
    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.
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  • Nancy
    January 1, 1970
    What the heck is going on here? This book is all over the place. I gave up.
  • Chelsea Hodson
    January 1, 1970
    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.
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  • Kalen
    January 1, 1970
    Over all, this book puzzled me. Looking back, the subtitle very clearly states that this is a family history, but from the description of the book it sounds much more like it is going to be a history of Jell-o and an unraveling of the causes/stories around the mysterious illnesses in the town where it was invented. It's not. As the description also says, this is a liberation story. Most definitely, both for Rowbottom and her mother who never got to tell her own story but desperately wanted to. T Over all, this book puzzled me. Looking back, the subtitle very clearly states that this is a family history, but from the description of the book it sounds much more like it is going to be a history of Jell-o and an unraveling of the causes/stories around the mysterious illnesses in the town where it was invented. It's not. As the description also says, this is a liberation story. Most definitely, both for Rowbottom and her mother who never got to tell her own story but desperately wanted to. That's where Jell-o Girls is at its strongest. The book weaves family (largely around Mary, her mother) and Rowbottom's personal history with feminism, witchcraft, psychology, and oh, the Jell-o history is in there somewhere. The Jell-o story (which, if you haven't figured out yet was what I was here for) was like a bit character that pops up every now and again as if to say, "I'm still here! Don't forget about me!" This inter-weaving of themes works with varying degrees of success. I actually found the domestic science history parts to be the most interesting--how we came to a place where our food is largely made of chemicals and designed for housewife ease. So, if you're looking for a family history, this is your book. If you're looking for more, you'll get bites of it but not the entire wiggly, jiggly (red, please) bowl.
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  • Marika
    January 1, 1970
    This is a unique memoir about the family who bought Jello-O patent & became fab rich and the mysterious ailments that plague them. In 1899, the author's great-great-great-uncle bought the patent for $450 and it changed their family dynamic forever, as it made them rich beyond their dreams. But with the change of social status came the the "Jell-O curse" which has followed the family for generations, and which the author's mother has been trying to write about for years. What is the curse? Re This is a unique memoir about the family who bought Jello-O patent & became fab rich and the mysterious ailments that plague them. In 1899, the author's great-great-great-uncle bought the patent for $450 and it changed their family dynamic forever, as it made them rich beyond their dreams. But with the change of social status came the the "Jell-O curse" which has followed the family for generations, and which the author's mother has been trying to write about for years. What is the curse? Readers will have to discover that for themselves. But to label this book "just a memoir" is a disservice, as it's so much more. Author Allie Rowbottom also follows the history of processed food, (like Jell-O) to show how it untethered women from the drudgery of food preparation and allowed them to pursue their own goals. It's especially fascinating to read how marketing campaigns for Jell-O changed over the years as society changed. This is a wonderful memoir of food, family, wealth and society.I read an advance copy and was not compensated.
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  • Lissa
    January 1, 1970
    This is an interesting memoir, part history of Jell-O and the town in which it was manufactured, part family history and part look at the theme of female hysteria and emotional repression.  Immensely readable, I found this a fascinating book. I received a digital ARC through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 
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  • Aletha Pagett
    January 1, 1970
    A fascinating look into the sadness and dysfunction of a family cursed with great wealth and the fluctuation of Jello's popularity with the American culture changes. This was received from Goodreads.
  • Janieh Hermann
    January 1, 1970
    I read the ARC of this upcoming book ... it is fascinating, quirky and a great summer read. The connections between the generations of women tied to the fortunes of the Jello-o empire is of particular interest.
  • Lloyd
    January 1, 1970
    Allie Rowbottom is not part of the Jello family and her perspective is through the eyes of her mother who has no blood relation to the Woodward family that founded the Jello company.
  • Monet
    January 1, 1970
    The sentences in this book made me so jealous. And the way Rowbottom weaves the historical narrative of Jell-O with her personal narrative is A+
  • PWRL
    January 1, 1970
    O
  • Robin
    January 1, 1970
    Review to come.
  • Cynthia
    January 1, 1970
    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.
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