Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Kitchen House - Kathleen Grissom

Summary: When a white servant girl violates the order of plantation society, she unleashes a tragedy that exposes the worst and best in the people she has come to call her family. Orphaned while onboard ship from Ireland, seven-year-old Lavinia arrives on the steps of a tobacco plantation where she is to live and work with the slaves of the kitchen house. Under the care of Belle, the master's illegitimate daughter, Lavinia becomes deeply bonded to her adopted family, though she is set apart from them by her white skin.
Eventually, Lavinia is accepted into the world of the big house, where the master is absent and the mistress battles opium addiction. Lavinia finds herself perilously straddling two very different worlds. When she is forced to make a choice, loyalties are brought into question, dangerous truths are laid bare, and lives are put at risk.

The Kitchen House is a tragic story of page-turning suspense, exploring the meaning of family, where love and loyalty prevail.
Cover photo and summary from

My Review: In hopes of providing a better life for their children, Lavinia's parents board a ship headed for America in 1791. Unfortunately both parents succumbed to illness aboard the ship leaving their two children orphans. Lavinia is merely six years old when she is seperated from her brother to become the captain's indentured servant. She is placed in the kitchen house and is raised by the captain's salves, particularly Belle. Lavinia becomes embedded in her new "family". As she matures Lavina is transfered to a realitive's home because it is considered uproper for a white girl to be raised among slaves. There she is treated almost as a family member. As the years pass it becomes quite clear that there is no keeping Lavania away from the only home she has ever know, the kitchen house.

Lavinia and Belle share the narrating of this story, each from her own unique voice. The two forge a strong bond to one another in the few short years they are housed together. Their mother-daughter relationship creates another twisted branch within an already tangled family tree. The story comes alive with each girl's narrative as their two very different perspectives are played out.

This is a story of heartache and love, a story of secrets and deceit, a story of violence and new life. This novel is emotionally difficult to read yet impossible to pull away from. Though the story touches on many facets of slavery, the darker side seems to be focused on most frequently. As the characters make mistakes, many of which would have been avoided had so many secrets not been so carefully guarded, the reader is forced into a powerless hold where all that can be done is to take a deep breath and watch the horror unfold.

Buried inside this story is a powerful message of love's ability to cross racial boundaries and create unbreakable ties. There is a moral regarding honor and standing up for what is just. Freedom is represented at several points with Lavinia's love of birds. This seems at odds with the prevailing themes of isolation and entrapment until the end when the truth is revealed and a sense freedom manages to peek through.

My Rating: 4 Stars
Sensitive reader: There are many uncomfortable moments in this book yet it is mostly just eluded to with few details.

To sum it up: A story of slavery set in the early 1800's that is both powerful and horrific. I wouldn't want to read it again but was unable to put it down once I began.


Michelle (Red Headed Book Child) said...

Hmmm...great review. I just got this one from my library but don't know if i am in the mood for that power house story. I am currently trying to finish up Wench, another book about slavery. sigh.
Maybe I will wait on this one. Thanks for the review!

Gerbera Daisy Diaries said...

I want to read this and Wench (mentioned above).
Great reaview.

Lisa (Southern Girl Reads) said...

I just finished reading this one and I loved it! I listened to the audio version which was beautifully narrated. Great review!!


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