The Kitchen House - Kathleen Grissom NO SPOILERS!!!

On completion: Four stars! I know I really liked the book, but why, and what is it that prevents me from giving it five stars? You keep turning the pages, I kept wondering what is going to happen next? Yes, a lot does happen, and sometimes it does feel a bit melodramatic given all the shit that hits the fan. What happens does not feel impossible, but sometimes I found myself thinking that the blacks absolutely never were as bad as the whites. Let me say once again, the story does not feel unbelievable. The characters are nuanced; you come to understand the different individuals as having particular character traits and you understand why they make they make the bad choices they make.

Everyone reviewing this book emphasizes the importance of the theme family plays in the book. I agree it is a major theme, but for me the central focus of the book was what the absence of family feels like. What are the consequences of loosing your family? Any cursory review of this book reveals that Lavinia, the white girl living as an indentured slave in a Virginian slave plantation is an orphan. I found it particularly eye-opening to see how she matures and how her life and her character were so closely influenced by her being an orphan. This theme of losing family was reiterated in other events too. I felt I left the book with a deepened knowledge of how it might feel to be an orphan. It is this that I most appreciated about the book. Lavinia's lack of security, her shyness, her entire way of being taught me a lot.

Another central theme concerns the cruelty of the white masters' rape of black women. We have all read about this, but I believe this book brings it home with a punch. It is not just the physical act, but also the consequences, that are brought to life. I do not consider this a spoiler, it is pretty obvious this will occur given the subject matter of the book. By reading this book, you learn the true pain these women experienced.

However, there are a number of things that bothered me about the book. As mentioned above, the black people really never did anything that was evil. They made mistakes, but you understood them. They clearly made fewer mistakes than their white counterparts. The reader does come to understand their misdeeds too. However, I felt that balance was a little bit lacking.

I have a further complaint. It is with the author's note at the end of the novel. It made me uncomfortable. I didn't believe it. I wish she had not emphasized the veracity of this story.

But overall, I couldn't put this book down. It very well portrayed the life on a Virginian tobacco plantation at the end of the 1700s and it offered interesting insights into how it might feel to be an orphan.


Through page 55: I thought this would be melodramatic. It isn't! I see this as reality. this is how life played out on Southern plantations in Virginia in the latter part of the 1700s. And now I finally understand who is who. I understand the inter-racial situation. Any reader cannot help but understand the tensions inherent to such a situation. As always in life, there are kind and evil people on both sides of the divide. Really, you do not want to put the book down. I know have my family charts drawn :0) It is just to read and enjoy. The author cleverly shows different perspectives by flipping between two narrators - Lavinia and Belle.

ETA: Oh yum, Belle is makking apple butter preserves. I have made that for my kids. Waste not, want not. I put all the bottles up in the cold attic. One day I found them up there eating apple butter with spoons, emptying bottle after bottle. Good stuff!


Having so far only read 30 pages, this seems to be just exactly the kind of book I was looking for at this moment - something to sink into, a book that will carry me away into another world, time and place. A book that will draws me to the characters and their lives. I assume you you all know this is about a small, white Irish child, whose parents die on the boat over to America. It takes place at the end of the 1700s. The captain doesn't know what to do with this child. She is sick, no one would buy her, so the only option is to take her home with him and give her to his black slaves. She can help in the kitchen. I don't really know who is who yet, more than you do. I do know that this little girl is called Lavinia. I do know that there are kind, loving relationships in this "family" of black slaves. I am guessing this could be a rather melodramatic story, but certainly not stereotyped. It has been called the revers "Gone with the Wind", in the white child is a slave. She has no higher standing than the slaves. Interesting premise. There is already clear foreshadowing..... The book starts at the end but then flashes back to the beginning, only I already have an idea about the ending! This doesn't bother me b/c I feel pretty darn sure the passage thorough the book will be pure escapism and a fun ride.

And you know me...... the prose style is ever so important! I like it. Look at the following lines. Look at what they say about the individuals:

Fanny hoped that the freckles across my nose would fill in to give my pale skin more color. (page 19)

Fanny, a black child of the same age as Lavinia, was worried about Lavinia's pale white skin! Cute, don't you think?! The following is also cute. Lavinia is always sucking her thumb.....

How could I fly with my thumb in my mouth? he wanted to know.... (page 20)

Ben a black, strapping youth of 18, voiced this. Ben gave Luvinia her first bird nest. Collecting abandoned bird nests became one of her favorite pastimes. She lined up that first one next to the homemade doll she received from Mama Mae. I know terrible things will happen, but I also know that this book will exhibit kindness and loving too.