Sunday, September 5, 2010

Review: The Kitchen House

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. -- Touchstone

I'm almost embarrassed to say that I've had THE KITCHEN HOUSE by Kathleen Grissom sitting on my book shelf for quite a few months. I knew the book sounded like one that I'd enjoy, but for some reason, I never got around to reading it. So a few weeks ago, a good friend of mine mentioned that she had just finished it and really enjoyed it. As if that wasn't enough to make me pick up the book, I also saw a tweet about how wonderful the novel was the very same day. I took both of those things as signs that I needed to read THE KITCHEN HOUSE sooner rather than later.

And let me tell you how glad I am that I finally read this book! I thought THE KITCHEN HOUSE was fantastic -- and it's a shame that I didn't get to it earlier. I pretty much loved everything about this novel from the storyline to the characters to the author's writing style. In fact, I have been recommending this book to everyone I see. I enjoyed it that much!

THE KITCHEN HOUSE is the story of Lavinia, a young girl who was orphaned when her parents died on the ship carrying them from Ireland to the States. She was purchased by a plantation owner to work alongside his slaves; however, she able to live and work in the kitchen house because of her white skin. Since she was only seven years old when she arrived at the house, she was "adopted" by the slaves and became part of their family.

As you can probably imagine, Lavinia felt as if she belonged with her adopted family; however, because she was white she was treated very differently than the slaves. This division became more apparent as Lavinia got older; and she eventually was torn between her loyalty to her master's family and her love for her adopted family.

I absolutely loved so many of the characters in this story, but none more than Lavinia. Of course, my heart went out to her from the very beginning of this novel when she lost her parents and her brother. I loved seeing how she blossomed under the care of her adopted mother Belle, but I always felt as if Lavinia was going to face some major issues when she turned eighteen and was granted her freedom. Unfortunately, I was correct in my concerns, but I admit that I had no idea just how complicated Lavinia's life would become.

I also thought the storyline in THE KITCHEN HOUSE was terrific. I loved getting a glimpse into the life of slaves, and especially the house slaves. (In some ways, the book reminded me a bit of ROOTS.) But I also really appreciated that the story itself was so interesting. There was a great deal that occurred in the book's 350+ pages, and I thought there were plenty of surprises as well as twists and turns. I have to tell you that I didn't want to put down this book!

I think one of the things that I most enjoyed about THE KITCHEN HOUSE is that it gave me a glimpse into a very interesting time in our country's history. I have read quite a few books that took place during the Civil War (or the times right before and after); however, I can't remember reading a book about slaves that took place in the late 1700s and early 1800s. I thought Ms. Grissom did a marvelous job with the historical aspects of this novel and it was apparent to me that she did a ton of research!

And I would be remiss if I didn't mention how wonderful a storyteller Ms. Grissom is. I absolutely loved how she told this story by using two narrators -- Lavinia and Belle -- because I felt as if I were able to see the same situations through the eyes of a white woman and a black one. It definitely enhanced my understanding of the story as well as the time period. In addition, I thought Ms. Grissom did a great job with the character development of Lavinia. She was such a complex character because she was forced to straddle two different worlds, and at times, she felt as if she didn't belong in either one. I was pleasantly surprised by how much this book affected me. It actually evoked some pretty  strong feelings in me -- both good and bad.

THE KITCHEN HOUSE would make the perfect book club pick. There is a reading guide available in the back of the book along with a very interesting interview with the author. Some of the topics you might want to explore further include the definition of family, racial injustices, isolation, a sense of belonging, addiction, abuse, and sacrifice. I don't think I'm going out on a limb by saying this, but I think everyone in your group will find something to love in this novel. The author has also included a recipe for Molasses Cake in the back of the book which would be perfect to serve for dessert!

Belle's Molasses Cake

½ cup butter
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
½ cup milk
1 cup molasses
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 dashes ground cloves
¼ teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Beat in the egg. In a separate bowl, combine the milk and the molasses. In another bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and salt. Add each of these alternately to the butter mixture, beating well between additions. Spoon batter into the prepared pan.

Bake for approximately 45 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

I highly recommend THE KITCHEN HOUSE especially if you enjoy historical fiction! It's one of my favorite books of the year!

Thanks to the author for sending me a copy of this novel.

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Carol said...

Thanks for the review. Had seen this book mentioned somewhere else online and am def adding to my wishlist.


Sandy Nawrot said...

Makes you wonder what kind of happiness is up there on your shelf waiting to be discovered, doesn't it? This book has gotten some incredible reviews. I hope it throws itself on to my path someday.

bermudaonion said...

I think this has been on my shelf as long as it was on yours. :( Sounds like a book I need to read right away!!

Beth F said...

Oh gosh -- I love everything about this book. How did I miss it? And it's getting cool enough to bake again!

Beth Hoffman said...

This is another one of those books that I've been reluctant to read (somewhere I heard it was terribly sad with no relief), but your review has convinced me to give it a try!

Michelle said...

I LOVED this book!! I am so glad you found the time to read it and enjoyed it as well.

Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours said...

I have never heard of this one but it sounds fantastic! On to the TBR list it goes. :)

Wendy's World said...

I recently found your blog and came across your review of "The Kitchen House", I had not previously heard of it. Thank you so much for steering me to a book I could not put down! There was literally never a good place to pause and I finished it in three days :) I have since recommended it to several others, and just had to thank you for the recommendation. Your blog will now be one I freqent for other suggestions.

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