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
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.