The Kitchen House

by Kathleen Grissom

Hardcover, 2010




Touchstone (2010), 368 pages


Fiction. Historical Fiction. HTML: 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 a ship from Ireland to America, 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 an 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. The Kitchen House is a tragic story of page-turning suspense, exploring the meaning of family, where love and loyalty prevail..… (more)


½ (1175 ratings; 4)

Media reviews

Though there are several compelling insights in The Kitchen House, it’s nevertheless a formulaic story. There are graphic shocks, but no surprises.

User reviews

LibraryThing member LiterateHousewife
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member Smiler69
In 1791, seven-year-old Lavinia has just arrived to America and finds herself on a Virginia plantation with no memory of her name or her background, nor of how she got there, as she is suffering from the shock of being orphaned on the voyage from Ireland and having witnessed both her parents being
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buried at sea. The ship's Captain having decided to take her on as an indentured servant, this is how Lavinia finds herself in the kitchen house, surrounded by black servants who wonder what a little white girl is doing in their midst. Belle, the young woman in charge of the kitchen house is at first dismayed to have to take on this strange skinny girl who keeps throwing up on her because she is unable to keep down her food. Belle is the Captain's illegitimate daughter and while she knows about her parentage, as do all the other servants, the Captain's young wife—an opium addict—is unaware of it and hates Belle, whom she believes to be her husband's mistress, as the Captain does nothing to hide his affection for his daughter. The novel is narrated by both Lavinia and Belle, who take turns telling their versions of the story, which spans from the day of Lavinia's arrival at the plantation until a time roughly twenty years later which we get a glimpse of in the prologue, set in 1810, which describes Lavinia and her own small daughter making the horrible discovery of a woman hanged from a great oak tree. At the heart of the novel are the 'Big House' servants with the matriarch Mama Mae, her husband Papa George and their children, who are in charge of looking after the Captain and his wife Miss Martha, along with their two young children. Unlike the slaves who work in the fields, who are malnourished and harshly treated by the taskmaster, the Big House servants are well fed, live in relative comfort and are respected by the Captain. At the beginning of the story their life seems almost idyllic, and this coupled with the prologue only adds to the impeding sense of doom.

I was deeply satisfied with the plot which describes the progress of Lavinia, Belle, the slaves, the various members of the Pyke family, and the many ways in which their lives are intertwined. I found this book absolutely captivating and could barely put it down from the very beginning. The narration moved swiftly along all the while following Lavinia on her surprising journey to womanhood and through motherhood. The characters are just fleshed out enough so that we understand their motivations and actions and the loyalties between various individuals, but no more, which is probably why I didn't give a even higher rating. I can see why this book was a top-rated selection in 2010 and would definitely recommend it to anyone.
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LibraryThing member BookDivasReads
Just finished this for a local book group read and I didn't enjoy this book. I felt it was contrived and filled with every Southern slave-era stereotype available. The underlying premise was very good, the alternating voices the one true saving grace (in my opinion), but it was an overly dark and
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depressing read that offered no insight or perspective.
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LibraryThing member mrstreme
When we hear about the "labor force" of the antebellum South, we often hear about enslaved Africans, forced to work the land in an unimaginably oppressive life. Kathleen Grissom, in her debut novel, The Kitchen House, depicts another type of forced labor - the indentured servant - in her novel
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about family, slavery and plantation life.

Set in the early 1800's, the story opens when Lavinia arrives at Tall Oaks, a plantation in Virginia, as a young girl fresh off a ship from Ireland. Lavinia is an indentured servant - left without any family - and is placed in the care of Belle, a young slave woman who works in the kitchen house. At first, Lavinia is sickly and withdrawn, but as the months progress, she becomes stronger and more dependent on her new family, led by slave Mama Mae, her husband George and their children.

The Kitchen House is Lavinia's tale of growing up on the plantation and her struggles of being a white girl raised in a black family. The story, though, is divided between Lavinia and Belle, whose narrative offers candid views of slave life. Lavinia's narrative is equally candid - showing everything from drug abuse to pedophilia. A lot of bad things happen to the characters in this book; it's amazing anyone could see a light at the end of the tunnel.

I found the first half of the book to drag on, the middle to be gripping, and the ending to be rushed. Lavinia's story, though, interested me enough to urge me forward. I question the historical accuracy of many aspects of this novel, especially how things fell together at the end, but all in all, The Great House was a good read. Fans of historical fiction should consider this book, especially if they enjoy tales about the Old South.
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LibraryThing member lit_chick
2010, Blackstone Audiobooks, Read by Orlagh Cassidy and Bahni Turpin

In early nineteenth century Virginia, Tall Oaks, the tobacco plantation of Captain James Pyke is thriving. It is to this “home,” where seven-year-old Lavinia – white and orphaned while onboard ship from Ireland – arrives to
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live and work as an indentured servant, along with the slaves of the kitchen house. Captain Pike assigns Lavinia to the care of Belle, his illegitimate daughter, and the young child becomes deeply bonded to her adopted family. In time, Lavinia is accepted into the society of the big house, the home of the Captain, his wife Martha, and his children, Lucy and Marshall. But all is not well: the Captain is most often away, his wife battles a crippling opium addiction, and Marshall – traumatized by the continued and despicable behaviour of a live-in tutor – becomes a hateful and violent young man. Lavinia finds herself in the dangerous position of straddling two very different worlds. When she is forced to make a choice, loyalties are drawn into question, perilous secrets are disclosed, and lives are put at risk.

The Kitchen House is an excellent read, exceptionally narrated by Orlagh Cassidy and Bahni Turpin. The characters of Tall Oaks, expertly brought to life by Grissom, are ones I will not forget: Mama Mae, Papa George, Belle, the Captain, Marshall, and, of course, Lavinia. The idea of home and family being shared amongst those of different colour in the era of slavery is beautifully written. But it simultaneously sets one’s teeth on edge, so to speak – surely, such a circumstance is not only dangerous, but can only lead to tragedy. And so the page-turning suspense begins. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member Soniamarie
"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..."

This is not just a historical novel.. it's a novel about family.
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NOT the family we are born and stuck with, but the family we choose. Those we prefer to surround ourselves with, those who stand by us thru thick and thin... friends.

The year is 1791 and Lavinia is only seven years old when she loses her birth family on a ship sailing from Ireland to America and finds herself an indentured servant to a very disturbing household. Despite the misery around her, Lavinia chooses a new family. Her new family, the people that take her in and care for her as tho she is their own reside in the slave quarters. The women are treated as concubines. The men can be bought and sold on a whim and beaten whenever their "masters" desire. Lavinia's new family has been much abused by the white man, but despite Lavinia's pale skin and red hair, they open their arms to her. There is Mama Mae, Papa George, Belle, Ben, Uncle Jacob, and more touching characters. These people literally go to hell and back everyday. There is no end to their misery, but they are always there for Lavinia.

Lavinia as she grows up finds herself often in the middle of household intrigue. The "master" is rarely home and his wife constantly lies in a drug induced stupor. The daughter meets with tragedy and the son is scarred for life by a cruel and evil tutor. The slave quarters have their own intrigue going on. There are affairs, broken hearts, and many many secrets. The secrets being kept end up hurting more by being hushed than if the truth had come out. Had Belle's and Jaimie's parentages been revealed to certain parties early on, so much heartache and pain could have been avoided...

I don't wish to reveal very much of the plot. It's a book that reveals a little bit by little bit. It's a great debut, but I have one major issue with it. In the last quarter, I began to think Lavinia is just unbelievably blind and dumb. She also becomes very weak. I prefer stronger heroines. When they going gets tough, Lavinia cries while her adopted family runs their arses off and risks their necks to help her out. Thus, 4 out of 5 stars.

Still a great book and really touches on the family and skin color issues. Color is only an issue if you make it one.
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LibraryThing member gaeta1
If I want to read Frank Yerby, I'll read Frank Yerby.

LibraryThing member bachaney
The Kitchen House opens in late 18th century Virginia. Young Lavinia is orphaned during her crossing from Ireland to America, and the capitain of the ship takes her as an indentured servant to pay for her crossing. The cautious Lavinia is placed with the Capitain's house slaves in the Kitchen House
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on his plantation in Virginia. Thanks to her kindness to the Mistress of the House, Lavinia is eventually welcomed into the house. Will the opportunities of the big house help Lavinia, or will they hurt her and the family she has grown amongst the slaves in the Kitchen House.

I enjoyed the story told in the Kitchen House and how it examines slavery from the unique perspective of a girl who is not quite a slave but not quite a free white woman either. Since Lavinia has no family and is an outsider to American culture, she gives an assessment of the situation that she finds herself in that is not colored by American society. I think it's this objectivness that lets her stradle both worlds, and ultimately try to move between them. I enjoyed how the author used Belle, a kitchen slave, to moderate and balance Lavinia's telling of the story. The scope of the novel was also very interesting, since it covers a fairly long period from Lavinia's childhood through her early adulthood.

Fans of historical fiction should check out this interesting novel.
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LibraryThing member BooksOverTv
I thoroughly enjoyed "The Kitchen House". I listened to the audio version of this book in two days. I found myself at times when not listening wandering what was going on with the characters, Momma, Belle, Lavinia, Papa and the others.To me, this story wasn't just another book about slavery and how
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slaves were treated but it had an interesting twist. In the story there's a little frail Irish girl who is brought by the Captain to work and live with the slaves. In doing so she forms an unimaginable bond and attachment to them that transforms her as a child and changes the course of her life as an adult.
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LibraryThing member salgalruns
When I was younger, I used to have these amazing dreams of living on a big plantation and rolling down the green hills. Maybe a little far off of reality, but it has always sparked my interest in plantation life. Yes, my reality was a bit skewed in my happy little bubble of suburbia... Truly, as a
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child, I never imagined anything more than the hill and the big white house. (Maybe some iced tea and a big 'ol hat?)

Kathleen Grissom cleverly pointed out to my imagination, the other side of plantation life. She focuses her novel on the servants and their relationships with those in "the big house." Her storylines take you from times that you want to cheer to times that you want to personally take out some of the nasty characters yourself!

I have to say, as much as I HATED the character of Marshall, Grissom did an incredible job with him. He is a truly evil person and it's through her descriptions of his unspeakable deeds do you really, really want to get rid of him. Truly well written...

You can't help but fall in love with the other characters. All of them. There's enough of a twinge of reality thrown in to remind you of the injustice that took place during this time (approximately 1800) with slave trading. I'm reminded of truly how far we've come in this world.

Wonderful, wonderful read (or listen - I read via audiobook).
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LibraryThing member streamsong
In the late 1700's an Irish girl, seven year old Lavinia, is orphaned when both parents die on the voyage to America. She is sold to a plantation owner to work as an indentured servant. There she is raised in the kitchen house by the family of slaves who are the houseworkers on the plantation.

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black family is wise and wonderful and loving.

The white family who are the owners? Well we've got an absentee father, a mother who copes with her disappointments with laudanum (opium) addiction, insanity, rape, incest, mental illness, sexual abuse by a pedophile tutor, and a brutal and ignorant overseer.

We also have a protagonist who isn't very bright. She is given an opportunity to move in with her master's cousin in order to be ready to serve her mentally ill mistress and also to go to school. She forgets what a nasty brutal, no good drunkard the son of the family was during the time she was growing up and marries him. On discovering he is still a nasty, brutal, no good drunkard under the influence of the evil overseer, she takes a page out of her former mistress's book and also becomes addicted to laudanum.

Although it really drives home the inhumanity of the slavery system, in my head I dubbed this one 'soap opera with slaves'.
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LibraryThing member Maydacat
This novel had good potential with its setting and storyline, but somehow, falls short of being a really great novel. The beginning narrative that sets up the plot is quite good, but before long, the story starts to bog down and actually becomes dreary in its repetitiveness. The characters almost
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become trite in their descriptions and development. The bad guys are REALLY bad, and we are told over and over just how evil they are. The innocents and the others are also equally stereotypical. While the book is lengthy, it still lacks development of some of the main characters. The end seemed rushed, almost as though the author decided she had to wrap it up quickly. Worth reading? Yes. Memorable months later? Probably not.
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LibraryThing member kitchenwitch04
I just finished The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom. I have to admit that this book is out of the normal genre that I am usually drawn to, but I also must say that from the first chapter, I was drawn into the book by the vivid description of plantation life, the characters that became so real
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that I could picture them in my head, and by emotions so strong that I could actually feel them as I read. This book was not the happy-ending type that I usually like to read - in fact it was quite the opposite. This book is filled with lots of pain and ugliness that I would not normally care to read about, but I read it quickly, not wanting to put it down..wanting to know what would happen next...I felt like I was right there, experiencing everything...feeling the pain, the anguish, the disgust, the fear...everything. And as I said, even though this book would not have been my normal held me captivated as well as appalled at what I was reading and I could not put it down.
I also found a copy of the audio book at my local library. If you get the chance you must listen to it! I listened to the story again as I drove back and forth to work....The two people that were chosen to read the book aloud could not have been better choices..they made the book an ever better experience than when I read it myself.
For a book with real emotion and a real glimpse of life on a Southern plantation, this would be my pick. This book is pure and honest, filled with emotions and characters that I will not soon forget - a book that I will definitely be recommending to people as one of my favorite top ten books ever, and I commend the author for such a wonderful read.
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LibraryThing member varwenea
Started at a gripping 5 star, plummeted down to 3 stars in the middle, and finished at a solid 4 star. Phew, what a ride.

Lavinia and Belle narrates this tale that spanned 19 years covering 3 generations. At the age of 7, Lavinia and her family were struggling Irish immigrants crossing the ocean.
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Her parents died at sea, and her brother was sold elsewhere. Lavinia, shocked and confused, became an indentured servant to the Captain and his family – cared for by Belle, the family’s cook in the Kitchen House and the illegitimate child of the Captain, by Mama Mae and Papa George – the primary caretakers of the Big House, and by all those who are the slaves of the plantation in the Quarters. Lavinia thusly finds comfort, familial attachment, and love via a large group of warm, caring individuals with skin of a different color who loved her as much as she loved them. As it was the late 1700’s, the color of the skin did matter; it mattered a lot. Lavinia was afforded the opportunity to learn to read and write, in addition to her kitchen duties under Belle’s tutelage.

The story of the Kitchen House is complex yet straightforward with several themes and a large cast of characters.
Isolation: The Captain’s wife, Miss Martha, suffered from isolation – both physically (in the large plantation away from anything and anyone) and mentally (no companionship, no outlet). Her weakness becomes a suffering point for her children, especially the eldest son Marshall, who then falls prey to the abusive tutor, Mr. Waters.
Repeated Cycles: Lavinia continues the isolation. Marshall continues the abusive pattern onto others.
Secrecy / Jealousy / Anger / Denial: Miss Martha jealous of Belle, not knowing Belle is the Captain’s daughter. Lavinia angry at Beattie for sleeping with her husband, not willing to accept he beats her to submission.
Misunderstandings: I *HATE* this plot tool. What is this – a RomCom?? Grrr… (Thus the plummet to 3 stars.)

When this books focuses on the race relationships and the treatments of slaves (starvation, stealing from them, mutilation), it’s rock solid. When it’s in the plot twists, it’s meh. In the end though, I was deeply drawn by the survival of the human spirit, the creativity in living as well as one’s circumstances would allow, and the humanity and giving spirit that is innate in the human race. A worthwhile read.

Favorite Characters: Mama Mae and Papa George – Kind, loving, intelligent, sharp, courageous, fair, thoughtful
Less Favorite Character: Lavinia – her lack of courage, will, and clarity at times makes me want to smack her hard

Some Quotes:

On fresh meat – I have to admit that I vaguely remember this, don’t ask…:
“…she lifted a small ax and, with one blow, chopped off the chicken’s head. She flung the chicken’s body to the ground as blood pumped from its neck. The head lay severed while the body stayed on its feet, terrifying me with tis morbid death dance.”

On seasoning – wow, flavoring cornmeal with wood, this is news to me:
“…I caught a pleasant waft of the salty smell of pork, but I was surprised to see her stir up a piece of board from the bottom. She looked about carefully before removing it, then threw it quickly on the fire. I’m not sure how I knew, but I was aware that this was a piece of the board from Jimmy’s smokehouse theft.”

On belonging – perspective of a 7 year old:
“’Well,’ he said, ‘Belle, your mama. Papa, your daddy. Then who is Mama Mae?’
‘She’s the big mama,’ I said, surprised he didn’t know.
I felt enclosed in the laughter that followed, and although I wasn’t certain of my exact position in the family structure, I began to feel there was a place for me.”

On fear – after Ben was attacked and mutilated:
“Now he have the fear. If he put that fear into hisself, nothin’ make him happy. If he put the fear back onto the world, everthin’ be a reason to fight.”

On white vs. black:
“Ben, remember how you always called Abinia a lil bird. That what she look like now. Like a scared bird sittin’ on the ground. Take more than wind to get her up flyin’ again. Course, she actin’ just like a white woman, just give up, sittin’ in her room. Beattie got the same trouble, but she figure out a way to make it work for her. Don’t know why Abinia don’t do the same. It make me mad!”
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LibraryThing member thetearose
I really liked this book - it had the underlying dark undertone that was so very poignant. This novel follows Lavinia, an Irish indentured servant who is raised by slaves at a plantation, and Belle, daughter of the plantation's owner and a slave. Needless to say, things never turn out for the best
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- eventually, the entire plantation suffers in the hands of their new owner, Lavinia's husband and Belle's half-brother.
I was really moved by the the utter helplessness of the slaves, and Lavinia being forced to stand as witness to her husband's actions. I thought this book offered a really good view on plantation life in the 18th and 19th century through the eyes of both the owners and their slaves, through good times and bad.
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LibraryThing member SilversReviews
I absolutely loved this book...couldn't put it down.

You will fall in love with the characters and share their joy, sadness, triumphs, and will want to be right there with the ladies in the kitchen house preparing meals and being loved by them.

The book is during the time of plantation
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owners and slavery. On his boat trip back from Ireland, James Pyke brought Lavinia with him...she is a seven-year-old white child whose parents died on the boat during the return trip.

Lavinia is sent to work in the Kitchen House, and the black families learn to love her and she learns to love them as the only family she knows...her memory is gone when she arrives and remembers nothing about her parents and her childhood.

Lavinia works alongside the ladies in the Kitchen House and then learns to take care of the Mistress of house's new born baby...the Mistress begins to teach Lavinia how to read and write. Lavinia is the main character along with Belle, Mama Mae and Papa George and of course the harsh plantation owners

The book takes you through the loyalties the black families have for each other and their Master and his family. It also makes your heart ache at the truths of what really occurred on the plantations concerning the relationship between the slaves and the plantation owners.

A lot of tragedies throughout the story, a terrific account of occurrences, excellent depictions of the surroundings and people.

Through the author's wonderful descriptions, you feel you are right there......the novel is fabulously written.

If you loved THE HELP, you will love this book as well or you may like it even more.

ENJOY!!!! It is wonderful.
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LibraryThing member janiereader
I've never heard of this book until some out of town friends I know read it in a book group, so I decided to read it. What a truly terrific read, not sure why I never heard of it before. While immigrating from Ireland, Lavinia loses both parents so at seven-year-old she is send to work in the
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captain's home to pay off her cost of passage. The slaves in the kitchen house become her family as she grows up feeling both a servant but also white. What could become trite, turns into an interesting historical tale with character driven action and a somewhat sense of a true feel of what life was like back in a 1790's plantation.

Eventually she is accepted into the "big house" and becomes the woman of the home, but she finds that even though she is technically free, she really is still at the whim of her husband, who is also her "master". Great take on black and women's rights of the era. Heart-warming at times, yet fast paced and sometimes gritty as scenes of the real world of the era emerge.

I listed to, and highly recommend the audiobook version of this title read in turns by Lavinia (Orlagh Cassidy ) and Belle (Bahni Turpin) Great narration and voice choices! Bahmi is one of my favorite narrators with a beautiful, evocative voice.
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LibraryThing member bookaholicmom
This story starts out with the prologue narrated by Lavinia. It depicts a horrible scene of a hanging. We know something bad has happened but we don't know why or to whom. The story then begins with Lavinia and Belle narrating alternating chapters. Lavinia is the young Irish girl who is orphaned on
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her family's journey to America and is taken in as an indentured servant by the ship's captain. Belle is a slave on the captain's plantation who also happens to be the daughter of the captain. Lavinia is sent to the kitchen house to be taken care of until the time that she can be of service. Lavinia becomes part of the family of Mama Mae, Papa George, Beattie, Fanny and Belle. The captain's family is pretty dysfunctional and plays a huge role in the lives of Lavinia and Belle. Lavinia eventually finds herself torn between two families and places in society. I like how the chapters alternate between Lavinia and Belle. The story flows beautifully between the two narrators. There is a lot going on in this book and I don't want to give the story line away. I think it is a story you have to experience and be surprised by. Trust me! It is a great story! There are times the story gets uncomfortable which makes it much more realistic feel than other books about the antebellum period. I could actually feel the fear of the characters at times. Once you get involved in the story of Lavinia and Belle you will not want to put this book down. I enjoyed this book very much and I highly recommend it. Don't read it too fast. You don't want to miss one morsel of this book. Kathleen Grissom does a fantastic job telling the story of The Kitchen House. I can't wait to read what she comes up with next!
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LibraryThing member whitreidtan
Chosen for my bookclub this past month, we seem to have a fondness for historical fiction. Quite honestly, I tend to prefer my historical fiction not be set in the antebellum South so I was definitely leary of reading this book. It's not so much that the topic doesn't interest me as much as it is
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that I know for an author to do the subject justice, the details need to be vivid and brutal. But I try for the most part to be a good little follower and read anything that is chosen for the group, even as I wince inwardly. And this book described many a situation that made me wince, shiver with revulsion, and want to hide my eyes and stop my ears.

Opening with the adult Lavinia scrambling towards the plantation house, hampered by her young daughter, but desperate to try and get to the house before the terrible event she's anticipating happens, the novel then goes back in time to Lavinia's very arrival at Tall Oaks and subsequent installation in the kitchen house. What makes Lavinia different in the kitchen house is that she's an Irish indentured servant rather than a slave. Her parents died on the boat journey so she is committed to the care of the Belle, the master's slave daughter. As Lavinia grows, since she is a servant, she is kept mainly in the company of the slaves, who come to form her family. But because she is white and so young, they don't enlighten her as to some of the terrible things they must endure simply because of their black skin. In addition to Lavinia's oftentimes naive narration, her slave foster mother, Belle, narrates as well. And in Belle's narration, there are no holds barred. There's murder, rape, and mutilation just for a start.

As Lavinia grows older, despite her love and respect for the Big House slaves, she is thrust more and more into the white world where her attachment to Mama Mae and Papa George is dangerous to them, a fact that Lavinia seems unable or unwilling to grasp. But Lavinia's desire to not forsake the family who has loved her for so long isn't the only dangerous thing in this tale. The most dangerous of all are the myriad of secrets that so many of the characters harbor and which change and destroy lives and lead to the eventual catastrophic climax alluded to in the prologue.

This novel was a very quick read, especially since the reader knows from the very beginning that there is a violent death coming. The quick glimpse into the future of the story served to keep the suspense and dramatic tension up the majority of the time. However, choosing to use two narrators unfortunately led on occasion to duplication of particular plot points which made certain sections a bit tedious to read as they added very little to the overall plot. The characters were, for the most part, fairly black or white (no pun intended). The good people were almost uniformly good and the bad people were almost entirely evil, making it easy to choose to root for the appropriate side, but which served to make the characters less real than they might have been. Despite the flaws and the dark and brutal nature of the tale itself, it was a generally addictive read. Not the South of Gone With the Wind, nor the South of modern eccentricity so common in contemporary-set novels, this is a hostile picture of the South but one that ends on an almost incongruously hopeful note. Fans of Southern set historical fiction will definitely enjoy this novel.
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LibraryThing member Jaguar897
The prologue of this book was pretty damn awesome. So much so that I was ready to give this book 5 stars right off the bat. But as the story progressed Grissom threw the kitchen house, the master’s house, the slave quarters and then some into this story. It became melodramatic. The problem was
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that it hit on one too many topics- the power of withholding secrets, incest, slavery, indentured servitude, drug use, mental illness and abuse just to name a few. It seemed like the characters in this book never received a break and it became difficult to see the silver lining. I know that real life is like this, but for me the problem was that the good times were glossed over. They were briefly mentioned, dismissed and then we were onto the next drama. I needed more good times to balance this novel out because it became tiresome to read of how these characters were living in constant fear. That is one of the main reasons this book earned 4 stars rather 5.

Despite my complaint, this story was well researched and written, especially for a first time novelist. Grissom’s characters really popped out of the story. My favorite character was Belle, simply because she kept it real. She knew what she wanted, didn’t care what others thought about it but at the same time she wasn’t selfish. Kudos to Grissom for writing such a balanced character. Oddly enough, the character I didn’t like was Lavinia, who was one of the main characters. The young Lavinia started out well enough and tore at my heartstrings a few times, but as she grew up her naivety became annoying. It seemed like she never smartened up, especially when it came to race relations, which I didn’t understand considering she grew up with the slaves. I didn’t think her naivety, and at times stupidity, were realistic because she wasn’t sheltered from the issues even though they weren’t directly communicated to her she was still observant. Most of the story was told from her viewpoint after all, so it really didn’t make any sense that she didn’t learn any lessons along the way. I was really disappointed with her as she became another Mrs. Marshall. To me this plot line only served to fulfill the stereotype that white women can’t cope with life, which was actually commented upon several times by the black characters. I thought it was a cop out for Grissom to go in this direction, which was another reason for my 4 star rating.

I did like the end though. I thought Grissom gave readers a realistic ending. She tied up loose ends, but not in such a manner that I felt she pushed it too much in the happy zone, so it didn’t feel “fairytale-ish.” It wasn’t happily ever after, but it was just enough to make me happy.

The audio for this story was well done for the most part and I can see why it’s a popular pick over at Audible. The narration is done by two narrators: Orlagh Cassidy (Lavinia) and Bahni Turpin (Belle). To me it sounded like Cassidy changed Lavinia’s voice about halfway through the audio. At one point it sounded like Lavinia lost her Irish accent and then at odd times she would get it back. At first I thought it was the narrator’s way of showing Lavinia’s new station in life, but after the accent came back I think it was just shoddy narration. I also didn’t like that Cassidy added a bit of vibration to her voice causing it to sound more dramatic than it needed to be on certain already emotional parts. It made the audio version even more melodramatic than it already was. I did love Turpin as Belle though. I thought she gave Belle the right amount of attitude and I looked forward to listening to her parts.

Overall, this is a good piece of historical fiction about family, the power of love and togetherness. If you don’t mind having your characters battered around for a good chunk of the story and have a strong stomach you’ll probably like this one.
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LibraryThing member amandacb
Grissom's novel begins strong, with the two strong characters of Lavinia and Belle beginning to take focus: Lavinia is an Irish immigrant, if you will, who has been "taken" into the household of a Southern family, and Belle works for the household as well.

One may think, not yet another historical
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fiction novel about slavery in America, but The Kitchen House offers up the special twist of a white slave, Lavinia, who must someone deal with the loyalties she feels for the black slaves and her affection for her white owners, especially the matriarch, Miss Martha.

The book follows Lavinia as she "grows up," although I hesitate to use that phrase. The Kitchen House only gets three stars since the middle half to the end of the novel begins to lag and become repetitive. Lavinia turns from a spirited, interesting character into a very tepid, immobile character--bad things keep happening to her and those around her, and yet she does very little in the way to effect change. Not that she has much power, yes, but her way of dealing with problems is annoying. The repetition of atrocity after atrocity became wearisome, and I just wanted the book to end.
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LibraryThing member Staciele
My mom gave me this book for my birthday in October and I chose it for our book club to read this last month. There is no question this is an excellent choice for a book club. There is so much to talk about! Slavery, alcoholism, parenting, family dynamics, and abuse are all topics that you will be
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sure to discuss. My book also had discussion questions at the end of the book.

With this book set during the late 1700's and into the 1800's, and in the south, there are certain expectations and rules that you have to remember. Plantations were isolated from the outside world it seemed and really were their own little country, running themselves and living off of their own produced goods. Slaves were common and their treatment was often tragically ruthless. What sets this book apart from other books of this genre is that Lavinia lives in the slave world but is white. She sees herself as one of them and doesn't understand that there is a difference between the two worlds. So, once her life with the slaves is uprooted, her whole world is turned upside down. Lavinia was very naive as to the societal expectations and social obligations and because of that, this novel has many interesting twists.

This book is told is alternating chapters between Belle, a slave in the kitchen house, and Lavinia. The naive telling of the story from Lavinia's perspective is compared to the harsh telling from Belle's perspective and in this way you get the whole story. There are many characters in this story and it may be helpful to keep track of them all and their relationship to each other while you are reading. The family of slaves is large and ever-growing throughout the story.

At times, the story is difficult to read due to the atrocities that happened both to the white son and the slaves. As the story builds, you begin to feel both anger and compassion towards those committing the violence. Unfortunately, the lesson "hurting people hurt others" plays out in this story in many, many ways.

As the story comes to a close, you will be sitting on the edge of your seat, reading the words and flipping the pages just as fast as you can to find out what will become of the characters. If you are easily emotional, keep tissues close by. The writer has built an interesting twist in the story that begins in the prologue and ends in the last nail-biting chapter.
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LibraryThing member Cariola
In the early 19th century, Lavinia, a young Irish girl who lost her family during immigration, is brought to a plantation as an indentured servant. She is taken to the kitchen house where Belle, a light-skinned young slave, is assigned to care for her. After a difficult adjustment period, Lavinia
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comes to think of the plantation as home and the slaves as her family. Life isn't always easy for them, but neither is it for the master's family: Martha, his wife, has to deal with her husband's affairs, the separation from her own family in Philadelphia, the loss of several children, and a doctor who pushes laudanum; Marshall, the heir apparent, is belittled and abused by his father and his tutor; and little Sally longs for playmates but is forbidden to socialize with the black children. Lavinia becomes Sally's main companion and the caregiver for the newest baby, but she also relishes her time in the kitchen house with Belle, Mama May, and the other slaves. We see, through her eyes, the hardships and cruelty that both families must endure. When Lavinia approaches her teens, she is sent to live with Miss Martha's sister, where she will receive a proper education and learn behavior more appropriate for a young white woman, but her ties to both families back home remain strong. Her return, however, is not as idyllic as she had hoped.

Grissom creates memorable characters and a story that keeps the reader's attention. As one would expect in any novel that deals with slavery, there are moments that are truly horrific, and even the happy times are always under the shadow of bondage. I'm looking forward to the sequel, in which Belle's son Jamie, now a grown man, moves to the city and passes as white.
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LibraryThing member 2LZ
I was truly engaged while reading The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom. It is a riveting story that compels the reader forward, not wanting for the book to end, but intrigued to discover the conclusion. The novel takes place during the 1800(s) in the south where slavery was considered normal and a
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right. There were parts of this novel that were difficult to read because of their graphic nature and because they vividly illustrated man's inhumanity. This was not a time period to be proud of, and the cruelty, heartlessness, discrimination and racism displayed made me cringe. However, the author also provided characters that represented the very best in people.

The reader comes to love Mama Mae, a black slave that is an integral part of the kitchen house and the heart of the novel. This kindhearted woman stole the story for me. Lavinia is a white indentured servant who is raised and loved by the black women of the kitchen house and their families. However, the fact that Lavinia is white changes her relationship with her "family" once her service contract ends and she is schooled in a different way of life. Lavinia is constantly torn between what is expected of her and what she feels for the loving family that raised her.

This is not a heartwarming story by any stretch of the imagination, although there were scenes that were touching, meaningful, and will stay with the reader. The tragedies and violence experienced are incredibly disturbing and haunting. This period of history deserved to be treated brutally and harshly. I had wished for a different ending, but the one provided was clearly more realistic.

I highly recommend this book.
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LibraryThing member KObooks
I really, really enjoyed this book. Narrated by 2 characters, Lavinia who is a white indentured servant and Belle a black slave. The story contains heartbreak after heartbreak but the characters are so well developed that I cried for each one. Oh Mama Mae! I wanted Lavinia to get a backbone but I
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had to remind myself that it was a different time and back then wives were also considered property. Great first novel for this author!
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Original publication date


Physical description

368 p.


1615238948 / 9781615238941
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