Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Review: The Kitchen House

The Kitchen House
by Kathleen Grissom
Why did you choose this book? It was a book club pick and I’ve been wanting to read it
When did you read this book? January 2014
Who should read this book? fans of historical fiction and Southern US history
Source: personal copy
Here is a synopsis of The Kitchen House from Goodreads
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.

My Review 
This book was a little hard for me to get into at first, though once I did, I was hooked. It took me only 2 days to finish. There were two reasons from my difficulty. This first was that I had just finished a book (Playing St. Barbara) that refused to let me go! (That is a good thing!) The second was I was convinced this book was going to end badly and I wasn’t sure I wanted to deal with the tragedy. I had a foreboding all through the book, and at times, especially in the last 50 pages, I would put the book down and walk away because I really didn’t want to read the ending.

That aside, I did enjoy this book, as did the majority of my book club. It is well written and definitely kept my interest. While some have compared it to The Help, I really would not make that comparison. I can’t really tell you this was an accurate portrayal of plantation life in the late 1700s, because I really don’t know. I could believe that while not everything that happened here was common on every plantation, all of the events COULD have happened on a plantation somewhere. I think the author did a good job of showing extremes. Will represented the very kind overseer; Rankin the evil overseer. The Captain is the benevolent master; his son Marshall is the cruel master.

The book also did a nice job of showing the powerlessness of women and slaves in the early days of our country. While the house slaves knew something terrible was happening and tried to bring it to their master’s attention, he brushed them off, and they had no way of helping after that. Livia was kind and wanted to maintain the friendly relationship she had with the slaves, but her husband was also her master, and he forbid it.

The biggest frustration with the story was all the mis-communication. There were a lot of ‘what-ifs’ and a lot of possibilities for different outcomes if the characters could have been more honest. In some cases, as mentioned before with the slaves, there was no power to speak up, but in others, there were assumptions made that turned out to not be true, and decisions made based on false assumptions. It would have been an entirely different story, but probably much less memorable. 

This was a great pick for our book club. The discussion pretty much took off on its own, however there are discussion questions at the back of the book if you need a starting point for your discussion. You can visit the author’s website for photos and background info.

My Rating:  ★★★★  4 Stars

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