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The Kitchen House

Review

The Kitchen House

Author Kathleen Grissom brings us a gripping tale of the South
during the days of slavery. The story is told from two different
perspectives: Belle, the mulatto daughter of plantation owner
Captain Pyke, and Lavinia, a white girl from Ireland who is sent to
work in the “kitchen house” with Belle and other
“nigras.”

Belle, whose mother was a slave, was born on the plantation.
Lavinia is an indentured servant whose parents came from Ireland on
a boat owned by Captain Pyke. Both her parents die on the voyage,
but she and her brother, Campbell, survive. While Campbell is sent
to be a servant in another city, Lavinia goes to live on
Pyke’s plantation.

Lavinia is only seven years old when her parents pass away. The
experience is so traumatic that, for several months, she has no
memory of the event. She is cared for partly by Belle and partly by
Mama Mae, a black slave who is in charge of the female slaves. Even
though Lavinia is white skinned, she develops a deep bond with the
blacks on the plantation, going so far as to call them “her
family.”

Captain Pyke is a busy merchant and spends much of his time away
from home. He leaves the plantation in charge of his weak, sickly
wife, Martha, and Mr. Rankin, the overseer who is hungry for power.
When the Pykes’ youngest daughter, Sally, dies, Martha is
overcome with grief and turns to laudanum for comfort. Mr. Rankin
sees this as an opportunity to run the place the way he sees fit,
which is to say that he makes life miserable for everybody. Add in
Mr. Waters, the male tutor who abuses the plantation owner’s
son, Marshall, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Lavinia is only 11 years old when she meets Will Stephens, who
is employed by the Captain. Although they are many years apart in
age, Lavinia has a major crush on this much older man, and as she
grows older, she realizes she loves him. Will falls in love with
her, too, though she doesn’t know it. Through a chain of
miscommunications, they never have the chance to declare their love
for each other until it is too late.

Just before her 13th birthday, Captain Pyke dies. Lavinia is
sent away from the plantation to live with Martha’s sister,
Sarah, and her husband in Williamsburg. For the most part, she is
happy there, but she longs to go “back home” to Tall
Oaks. She achieves her desires when she marries Marshall Pyke and
becomes the mistress of the plantation. Unfortunately, her dreams
for a peaceful life in her childhood “home” are
shattered when the truth of her husband’s drunkenness and
marital infidelities are revealed. She is also faced with the
reality of the clearly drawn line on the plantation between the
whites and the blacks. As the new mistress, she is no longer
permitted to call the slaves her family; they are simply her slaves
now.

Kathleen Grissom’s first novel explores the well-known
side of the dark world of slavery as well as the not-so-well-known
world of white slavery, or indentured servitude. The book is
written in a manner that is fast paced and action packed, making it
difficult to put down. Grissom is currently working on her second
novel, and I’m sure it will be just as successful as her
debut.

Reviewed by Christine M. Irvin on January 22, 2011

The Kitchen House
by Kathleen Grissom

  • Publication Date: February 2, 2010
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone
  • ISBN-10: 1439153663
  • ISBN-13: 9781439153666