At the turn of the nineteenth century of a tobacco plantation in virginia, young, white Lavinia, who was orphaned on her passage from Ireland, arrives on the steps of the kitchen house and it placed under the care of Belle, the master’s illegitimate, black daughter. Lavinia learns to cook, clean, serve food, and cherish the quiet strength and love of her new family.
In time, Lavinia is accepted into the world of the big house, caring for the master’s opium-addicted wife and befriending his dangerous yet protective son. She attempts to straddle the worlds of the kitchen and big house, but her skin color will forever set her apart from Belle and the other slaves.
Through the unique eyes of Lavinia and Belle, Kathleen Grissom’s debut novel unfolds in a heartbreaking and ultimately hopeful story of class, race, dignity, deep-buried secrets, and familial bonds.
(Synopsis from back of book.)
The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom was the May book choice for the Pi Beta Phi virtual book club. I was actually really excited to begin reading this book because I absolutely love to read historical fiction novels. So of course I was intrigued and anxious to begin reading the novel. Unfortunately, I had to wait until close to the end of the month due to the fact that I was preparing for the end of the school year and I as writing finals for my students. I waited to begin the book because I know myself, and I know that once I begin a book that I really, really like I have a difficult time putting it down. So in that case, I waited until Memorial Day weekend to read the book.
The Kitchen House was a great book that kept me interested the whole time. I liked the way that the story changed points-of-view as it switched between Lavinia and Belle. I found it interesting the way things were perceived in different ways based on race and age. Lavinia, being white and a young girl, gives the reader a different perspective on what it was like for the slaves at the plantation. Belle also gives the reader an interesting perspective and interpretation of the events that happen in the Big House as well as on the rest of the property.
While reading this novel, I felt that Kathleen Grissom did an excellent job of keeping the events of this plantation believable while still giving the reader that hint of hope and intrigue as the years passed and the stories developed. Grissom also did a great job of not only keeping the reader engaged in the lives of all of the characters, but also in showing the realities of life during the 1790s and 1800s.
I highly recommend this book, especially to those who love to read historical fiction novels. While there are some who may not be fans of the shifts in narration, I still say that the use of this technique adds to the understanding of what the characters go through in their lives. The Kitchen House keeps the conversation going about this point in our history and how we can still see reflections of it in our society today.