Friday, September 23, 2011

The Kitchen House (Kathleen Grissom, 2010)

The Heroine: Lavinia, an orphaned indentured servant from Ireland that ends up working in the kitchen house of a tobacco plantation in 18th century Virginia. The story follows Lavinia through her childhood as the only white slave among a close-knit family of black servants that adopt her as their own. The issues of race and social class become prominent as Lavinia blossoms into a beautiful, caring and often tragically naive young woman, precariously straddling the line dividing her family and her place in society.

The Highs: Beautifully written, this book weaves an intricate web of sub-plots with perfect clarity and wonderful prose. The narration, split between Lavinia and Belle (a half-white slave that becomes Lavinia's caretaker), unravels quickly without any lulls in the action. This book immediately wraps you in and refuses to let you go. The Kitchen House has what I call "the domino effect": each event unfolds easily into the next, picking up the pace as the plot heads seamlessly towards the climax.

The diverse cast of characters are all portrayed with striking realism, from Miss Martha, the opium-addicted lady of the house, to Mama Mae, the matriarch of the servant quarters. Each character is in possession of their own personality, motives and values. I was shocked by how thoroughly each character is developed, unusual for a novel with such a large ensemble.

Certain themes in this novel really touched my heart, especially the various types of mother-child relationships between the characters. The bond of family is such a prevailing idea in the story, touching every character in a different way and overcoming every obstacle in its way. I found it very inspiring; it made me want to call up my own mother and tell her I love her!

The Lows: There are many difficult themes touched on in the story, including racism, rape, murder, incest, mental illness and drug addiction. I personally felt all these topics were dealt with tactfully and in a way appropriate to the narrating character, but just consider this a warning for more sensitive readers. Either way, this book will reduce you to tears!

I would have loved more detail on what happens to the characters at the end of the novel. I'm very curious about what happened to Lavinia, her relationship with Will and especially other minor characters, like Meg, Sukey and Elly.

As well, though there are many romantic relationships between the characters, I would never call this book a romantic read. I would have appreciated more detail on the intimate relationships, but the book is so good that the lack of romance is only an after-thought.

Final Thoughts: I devoured this book in a period of 24-hours. I would definitely recommend this book!

Rating: The Kitchen House earns nine opium drops out of ten.

Buy "The Kitchen House" on Amazon here
Connect with the author, Kathleen Grissom, here


  1. Thanks for reviewing this! I've never heard of this book, and it sounds very interesting. I'll definitely be on the lookout for it!

  2. I've also never heard of this book but will now definitely keep an eye out for it. You've made this sound like such a beautiful must-read.

  3. Oh, it totally is. I absolutely adore this book.


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