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, Orator Francis Woodward 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 generations of his family enjoyed immense privilege - but they were also haunted by suicides, cancer, alcoholism, and mysterious ailments.

Allie Rowbottom’s mother, Mary, niece of Jell-O matriarch Edith Woodward, grew up in the shadow of this privilege. When more than 100 years after the Jell-O deal was struck, Mary was diagnosed with cancer, the same disease that had claimed her own mother's life, she became 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.
                                                                                                                                                        An examination of the dark side of an iconic American product and a 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. Throughout, 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.


A New York Times Editors’ Choice
One of People Magazine's Best Books of Summer 
An Amazon Best Book of the Month
An Indie Next Pick
A Real Simple Best Book of 2018





“Despite its title, this isn’t a bland tale that goes down easy; Jell-O Girls is dark and astringent, a cutting rebuke to its delicate, candy-colored namesake...Rowbottom has the literary skills and the analytical cunning to pull it off. Like a novelist, she can imagine herself into the emotional lives of others, while connecting her story and theirs to a larger narrative of cultural upheaval.” —Jennifer Szalai, New York Times

Rowbottom’s memoir of her family, heirs to the Jell-O fortune, is neither sweet nor wistfully nostalgic. It is a dark, disturbing story of patriarchy, oppression and sickness, alternating with a meticulously researched feminist history of the Jell-O business and its marketing campaigns directed at women.” —Moira Hodgson, Wall Street Journal

 Devastating…The mother-daughter portrait that emerges here melts the heart.” Liesl Schillinger, O, the Oprah Magazine

“Mysterious illnesses, great disappointments, haunting events—the story behind Jell-O (yes, that Jell-O) is crazy.… Jell-O Girls is part family history, part American history, and part commentary on our patriarchal society. But unexpectedly and at its core, it’s a story of motherhood.” —Goop

“A moving portrait of abiding mother-daughter love…Rowbottom’s keening book is at its core an act of devotion to her mother...Rowbottom shares her mother’s trenchant view of Jell-O’s subliminal social programming, and her passages about the brand’s marketing offer stimulating feminist cultural analysis. What gives her text its emotional force is the interweaving of this material with her own personal stories.” —Wendy Smith, Boston Globe

 “A fascinating narrative about family, motherhood, feminism, and trauma.” —Sadie Trombetta, Bustle

 “This surprisingly feminist tract is ultimately a mother-daughter story. In excavating her mother’s story, Rowbottom reveals the curse of Jell-O’s allure. Read this delicious book for yourself, but the stomachache left behind? It is patriarchy.” —Peggy Goings, San Diego Union-Tribune

 “A work of wild insights and deep music. We all come from somewhere, yet I never imagined that someone could come from Jell-O. Allie Rowbottom has molded this generous book of intuition, connection, and grace.”—Nick Flynn, author of Another Bullshit Night in Suck City

 “A capable, highly readable book on a topic that deserves more attention…Though superwealth and misogyny are ready subjects, Jell-O Girls is most interesting as an examination of the psychological sources of illness and the outsize fertility of unhealed trauma…Indeed, the book itself seems a talisman to ward off sickness. In accordance with our culture of confession, Rowbottom earnestly hopes that an act of speech—writing, in this case—may represent the cure.” —C.E. Morgan, New York Times Book Review

 “More than a memoir about Rowbottom’s family…Jell-O Girls is also a fascinating feminist exploration of the role the jiggly dessert played on dinner tables across the country and in larger society. Rowbottom tells a strange, sensitive account of trauma, motherhood, and America.” —Nora Horvath and Elizabeth Sile, Real Simple

 “Graceful and genuine, Jell-O Girls is what happens when a damn good story meets an even better writer.” —Mat Johnson, author of Loving Day

 “This surprising page-turner of a memoir tells the story of the drama-haunted family behind the wiggly dessert that went on to become one of the most profitable businesses in American history (and a favorite Southern ingredient).” —C.J. Lotz, Garden & Gun

 “I love this book with all my heart. I couldn't put down this strangely sparkling cultural and family history.” —Porochista Khakpour, author of Sick

“A fascinating family history combined with an examination of an iconic brand. Through it Rowbottom shows the interconnectivity among women and the continued need for amplification of their voices…. This captivating memoir connects a family ‘curse’ to Jell-O, feminism and changing societal norms.” —Melissa Firman, Shelf Awareness

 “A moving memoir of a daughter seeking to understand her mother, family, and the place of women in American society, and the narrative also serves as a thoughtful, up-close-and-personal feminist critique of a cultural icon. A book brimming with intelligence and compassion.” —Kirkus Reviews

 “Jell-O Girls kept me up nights with its urgency and insistence, following Rowbottom, in her masterfully clear-eyed grief, on the hunt for understanding and explanation. A heart-wrenching confession, an exacting cultural history, and an important and honest feminist story for right now.” —Aja Gabel, author of The Ensemble

 “A memoir that reads like fiction—it will completely fascinate you.” —Brenda Janowitz, PopSugar

“In compiling a history of the spell the Jell-O brand cast on the American housewife—by working its way into every dietary fad from ‘domestic science’ to Weight Watchers—Rowbottom also manages to chart the mystery of female pain. Along the way, she reclaims her own family history, writing a tribute to her mother that is both gutting and gorgeous.” —Alice Bolin, author of Dead Girls

 “Rowbottom paints a fascinating portrait of the family behind one of America’s most famous desserts...The renown of Jell-O will attract a variety of readers to this memoir, and the storytelling will keep them turning pages to the very end.” —Library Journal (Starred Review)

 “Rowbottom is a talent to be heralded. Jewel-toned as its subject, her prose brings into crystal focus the lacerating toll of patriarchy in our media, our homes, and our own bodies.” —Sarah Gerard, author of Sunshine State

 “Before Allie’s mother died of cancer she began digging into the family’s past to trace the origins of the illness. Jello‐O Girls is Allie’s continuation of her work, diving into her family history and themes of motherhood, love, and loss.” —Elizabeth Entenman, Hello Giggles

“A gripping and compelling portrait of the women born into one of America’s most recognizable brands…A feminist revelation and a captivating investigation of the true history behind a family and the collective consciousness of a nation.” —Julia Fierro, author of The Gypsy Moth Summer

 “Intimate and intriguing...A fascinating feminist history of both a company and a family.” —Publishers Weekly

 “In this first-ever insider account Rowbottom mixes up equal parts history, sociology, feminist tract and personal mother-daughter story to create a literary treatise as clear and bright as Jell-O itself.” —Carolyn Wyman, author of Jell-O: A Biography

 “A deeply personal and frequently painful journey that’s all the more heartrending because it’s true…Rowbottom brings a clear-eyed clarity to the story, incorporating both a conciliatory and a cathartic tone that keeps the story on track throughout, even in its darkest moments.” —Mark Burger, Greensboro (NC) Yes! Weekly