Everyone seemed to be raving about this book, and when my friend Amy Clark over at www.momadvice.com listed it as one of her top picks for 2010 I purchased it for our Kindle. Wow – I am so glad I did because I absolutely loved this book!!
The story follows the young life of Lavinia, a white indentured servant in the 1790’s, as she is taken to a Southern plantation to work in the kitchen house with the slaves. Lavinia’s parents had died on the journey over from Ireland and she and her brother are taken as servants (her brother being sold away). The first part of the story follows Lavinia’s adjustment to her new life and her adjustment to her new surroundings – and to the loving Black slaves she thinks of as family. The story is also told at times from the viewpoint of Belle, a mixed race slave who is the daughter of the plantation owner. Belle is no shrinking violet and seeks her emancipation. The story follows Lavinia through childhood and adolescence into adulthood.
One reason I loved this story was the characters. What great characters — Mama Mae, the loving female head of the family of slaves, Papa George her husband, tough and feisty Belle, the twins Beattie and Fannie, Sam – strong and loyal, the Captain – head of the plantation, Will – the kindly neighbor, Marshall – the troubled young man of the house, Sally – his little sister, Mr. Waters – the evil tutor, sweet little Sukey, etc etc etc. This book was peppered with interesting and memorable characters. I also formed a strong liking for Lavinia. Yes, she seemed to have people dropping like flies due to their love of her, but I liked her.
The storyline in this book kept me reading and reading, often late into the night. (CONTAINS SPOILERS) Lavinia seeks to better herself by going into a marriage with a lecherous older man. Marshall and Will both fall in love with Lavinia. The slaves seek to run away to freedom. Belle and Sam keep their relationship going. Lavinia tries to help her slave family to freedom. I was never sure what would happen next. If I had one complaint, though, it was that some of the storylines were left a bit hanging – and I wondered if that was on purpose (AGAIN – MORE SPOILERS!) Where did Sukey end up? Did Marshall kill Mr. B? Who knew the tutor was abusing him all those years and how was he killed? What will become of Belle’s son???
I did hear that there might be a sequel.
If you love historical fiction, you will probably love “The Kitchen House” as much as I did – though I should warn you that the word TRAGEDY is appropriate for it. I did read that people are comparing it to “Gone with the Wind” and “The Help”. Uh-uh. It takes place in the South and it deals with slaves and servants. That’s about all that is similar. It can, in part, I think, be seen as a romance.
And I’m – as always – so impressed that it is Ms. Grissom’s first novel!!