January 18, 2012

Review: The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

Release Date: February 2010
Publisher: Simon & Schuster | Touchstone
Pages: 369 pages
Source & Format: Christmas gift; Paperback
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
Seven-year-old Lavinia arrives on the steps of a tobacco plantation after she is orphaned while onboard a ship from Ireland. She becomes an indentured servant, living with the master's illegitimate daughter, Belle. Lavinia becomes strongly tied to her adopted family despite the difference in their skin color.

As the years pass, Lavinia becomes more accepted into the world of the big house. While the entrance into this world provides her with more opportunities, she finds herself straddling two very different worlds. In the end, she must make a choice. Lavinia must decide where her loyalties lie, and she must find the strength to face the truth.

Thoughts on The Kitchen House
I knew I had to read this book when I heard it had been compared to The Help, which is one of my very favorite books. Thankfully, I wasn't disappointed.

The prologue opens in 1810 with a powerful and haunting scene that should have prepared me for what was in store. The Kitchen House is my favorite kind of book. It's a page-turner, forcing you to read just a little bit more, just read one more chapter... To say I was hooked would be an understatement.

The book shares two narrators - Lavinia and Belle. Lavinia is quiet, fragile, and barely able to cope with the horror of the things she sees and hears. From my first introduction to the girl, it's obvious that she isn't going to be "strong" heroine. She is unable to remember her parents passing, numb to her loss, and barely speaks. Her grief has silenced her. As she begins to remember her past, she is only comforted by the love and attention from those around her.

This aspect of Lavinia's character - her struggle to cope - lasts throughout the novel. Her reaction to some of the book's most shocking events is believable because it is the same reaction she had to her parents' deaths. She withdraws into another world. I was fascinated with her as a heroine because she was different and unique.

Belle, on the other hand, is grounded and strong. She, too, knows loss and pain. However, she is not naive. She faces tragedy and hardship with honesty and courage. I enjoyed Belle as a character, and I appreciated getting to hear things from her point of view.

All of the characters, not just Lavinia and Belle, were well-developed. They were fully drawn beings that could exist off the page. I had no trouble remembering who was who - even though numerous people played a role in the novel. It was obvious that a lot of research, as well as passion, went into this novel. I love when I am able to read a piece of historical fiction that draws me in with the characters but still feels true in the details.

I will note, however, that this book is quite dark at times. It deals with subject matter that is serious, and it is heartbreaking to know that some of the worst moments are based on factual accounts from a dark period in our nation's history. I don't want to give too much away, but this book does not paint a pretty picture of the pre-Civil War South. That being said, I would still absolutely recommend it.

So Quotable
"What the color is, who the daddy be, who the mama is don't mean nothin'. We a family, carin' for each other. Family make us strong in times of trouble. We all stick together, help each other out. That the real meanin' of family. When you grow up, you take that family feelin' with you."

"This world is not the only home. This world is for practice to get things right."

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