In the 1800s, houses were somewhat split up into different buildings and most ‘main’ houses didn’t have a kitchen. The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom is a novel about a 7 year old slave named Lavinia who finds herself working in the kitchen house on a tobacco plantation in Virginia. Right off the bat the author gives us a twist; the 7 year old little girl is white. She was abandoned on a ship and bought into slavery and found herself with an ‘adoptive’ family of sorts, each of them a slave too but all of them black. As she grew older, she started working more often in the main house and for reasons she doesn’t even understand, she finds herself sucked into the drama of her rich and superior ‘masters’. The story unfolds as she grows into a woman and desperately tries to maintain a grip on both of the worlds she always had one foot in.
The author pains a beautiful picture of the story’s backdrop, so much so I find myself wanting to travel to Virginia this spring. The characters in this book pop off the page with how complex they are. It’s engrossing to read about their backstories and what happened as they each grew into adulthood. The relationships formed between the characters were not only heartwarming but believable; you could picture yourself speaking to your own mom or aunt or brother in the same way. Despite the fact that most of the characters were slaves, they had rich and meaningful experiences that kept me up turning the pages, way past my bedtime on more than one night. It was nearly impossible not to deeply care for each character and I found myself a slave to the slaves I was reading about!
Reading other reviews about this book I often found Kathleen Grissom under assault for a horrible first novel. I cannot agree in this case. This book was fantastic. I found the trials and tribulations of everyone in the book to be fascinating and captivating. If you are looking for a very touching story to submerse yourself into, The Kitchen House will do the trick. And I am eagerly looking forward to more work from Ms. Grissom.