#235 ~ The Kitchen House

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

Published by: Touchstone

Published on: Feburary 2, 2010

Page Count: 384

Genre: Historical Fiction

Format: paperback review copy from the publisher

Availability: paperback and eBook

My Review

Imagine fleeing with your family from your home country as a 7 year-old child only to land in a strange new country as an orphan soon to be separated from your only living brother when he is sold on the block as an indentured servant.  Lavinia herself was brought into the household of Captain James Pyke as little more than a slave.  The only two things that separated her Lavinia from many thousands of Africans brought to the United States as slaves is that she is white and would be given her freedom at the age of 18.  This meant nothing for the scared little girl with nothing left in the world.  She soon clings to Mama Mae, who shows her unconditional love, even though she lives with  Belle, the mulatto daughter of Captain Pyke, in the kitchen house. Over time, Lavinia and Belle’s relationship grows and solidifies.  While she was young, she found comfort in her slave family, but it was only inevitable that what made Lavinia different would tear her away from Mama Mae and Belle.

Lavinia’s plight from the very beginning of this novel had me hooked.  From the moment I started reading, I didn’t want to put it down.  I was always wondering what was going to happen next.  There is so much happening on the plantation around her. Captain Pyke is often away from the plantation, at work on his ship.  Even though Captain Pyke is a decent slave owner, those he puts in charge of his plantation and family while he’s gone make life hard for all.  Mrs. Pyke, a woman who grew up in Willliamsburg, has never become accustomed to life separated from her husband while alone on the plantation.  She turned to opium long before Lavinia arrived.  In a way, the Pyke children are nearly as motherless as Lavinia.  Marshall Pyke is especially affected by his father’s physical and his mother’s emotional distance.  Mama Mae is the heart of all that is good on the plantation, but even she can’t keep the inevitable away.

Kathleen Grissom divides the narration of The Kitchen House between Lavinia and Belle.  This is an important part of the story because each woman has her own perspective on the events unfolding.  Although Lavinia was truly loved by her adopted slave family, she was equally sheltered.  The truths kept from her may have protected her while she was young, but brought harm to her and the plantation as she grew older.  Belle is more experienced and knowledgeable about what is taking place, but even she is blinded by her place.  It is the combination of voices that make this story as compelling as it is.

Just when I thought that there were new stories to tell about plantation life in Antebellum South, Kathleen Grissom has given us something unique with her first novel.  She gives her readers a look at that life through the eyes of an indentured servant.  I couldn’t help putting myself in Lavinia’s place, feeling her deep need for finding a home and understanding her inability to see and accept that one race of people is lesser than another.  The Kitchen House brought me out of a reading slump as if it never existed and reignited my interest in American historical fiction.  There is so much that has happened just outside my own back door.

My Final Thoughts

The Kitchen House would make a terrific book club selection.  I wholeheartedly recommend this book.

About the Author

Kathleen Grissom was born in Saskatchewan, Canada and has loved to read her entire life.  She was inspired to write The Kitchen House while researching the history of the plantation house she restored with her husband in Virginia.  She is currently at work on her second novel.

I have the good fortune to be attending Kathleen’s Lynchburg stop on her book tour on 2.13.10.   I will report back on my experience and hope to have a signed copy of The Kitchen House to giveaway with that post.

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  • At 2010.02.13 01:37, Kimmy said:

    Thanks for the review! I was just 5 minutes ago thinking that I want to read this book. Now, I want to read it even more. Thanks;-)

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    • At 2010.02.13 03:01, Constance said:

      This sounds fascinating. I actually have an ‘indentured servants’ category on Goodreads, which I realize is a bit unusual, but have been trying to recall all the ones I liked as a child.

      • At 2010.02.13 05:19, Kay said:

        I like the sound of this one. Thanks for bringing it to my attention and sharing your thoughts.

        • At 2010.02.13 07:25, Sandy said:

          Someone else recently reviewed this book, and my radar has been up since then. It is such an interesting (not always in a good way) time in our history. I have a relative on my mom’s side of the family that came over to America from Scotland as an indentured servant, and ended up becoming a land owner. So I guess it even hits closer to home for me. Great review!

          • At 2010.02.13 10:01, RACHel Schuh said:

            Great review, thank you! I was just looking at this on Amazon!

            • At 2010.02.13 10:17, Kathy R (Bermudaonion) said:

              The book sounds fantastic! Lucky you getting to meet an author who’s work you loved!

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              • At 2010.02.13 12:37, Shelley said:

                I was glad to see a Canadian author reviewed here! Their plains are similar to the ones I’m interested in.

                On a side note, I noticed Gladwell’s The Tipping Point on your library list. Just yesterday I was quoting that book to a friend at lunch–it really is useful!

                • At 2010.02.13 15:31, Aarti said:

                  So glad to see a review of this one! I feel like there are so many books now about slavery and this is an additional twist, as it relates to indentured servitude. Great review!

                  • At 2010.02.13 17:22, Jennifer said:

                    I just got back home from the reading and had a wonderful time! I do have a signed copy that I will be giving away. I’ll be writing about my experience and providing some video clips for tomorrow’s Sunday Salon post. I hope you all come back for more tomorrow. Kathleen read one of my favorite passages. Yay!

                    • At 2010.02.13 18:40, Lisa said:

                      I’m going to have to grab a copy of this and check it out for my book club. We’re soon going to be making decisions for the second half of the year and this would be something completely different for us.

                      • At 2010.02.13 19:45, jennygirl said:

                        Thank you for the wonderful and through review. I don’t usually read American historical fiction but this one has me changing my mind. Thanks!

                        • At 2010.02.15 11:37, Sheila (Bookjourney) said:

                          What a wonderful review and a book that was just added to my list to check out. Thanks!

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                          • […] loved Kathleen Grissom’s debut novel, The Kitchen House.  As soon as I knew she would be in my area, I made plans to see her.  When I told Jaime from […]

                            • […] that’s not enough to convince you, check out this rave review from Jennifer at The Literate Housewife, whose taste I trust implicitly, and this sneak peek at […]

                              • […] a side note, thanks to an invitation from Jen, The Literate Housewife, I had the opportunity to meet Kathleen Grissom and hear her read and speak about her inspiration […]

                                • […] “Just when I thought that there were no new stories to tell about plantation life in Antebellum South, Kathleen Grissom has given us something unique with her first novel.  She gives her readers a look at that life through the eyes of an indentured servant.  I couldn’t help putting myself in Lavinia’s place, feeling her deep need for finding a home and understanding her inability to see and accept that one race of people is lesser than another.”  – The Literate Housewife Review […]

                                  (Required, will not be published)

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