My name is Ardis and I am an avid reader and budding writer. I want to share my love of books with others. I work with kids and am interested in finding and creating books that will ignite the reader in everyone. Contact me at: ardis.atkins@gmail.com

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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Book Review: The Kitchen House

Synopsis (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.


The Kitchen House brings to life the brutality and strange social dynamics of the slave culture of the American South.  The story takes place in the Virginia countryside between 1791 and 1810.  Lavinia, a  six year-old white Irish child becomes an indentured servant for a family after her parents die during the voyage to America.  Being so young, she is brought to the kitchen house of the tobacco plantation to help the slaves with the cooking.  Despite their color differences, the workers welcome the child and over the years they become Lavinia's family.  There Lavinia witnesses the harsh treatment of the workers and abuses going on in the main house.

I found this book very powerful and, at times, disturbing.  The book pulls no punches in it's depiction of the mistreatment of slaves, particularly the common occurrence of white men raping females slaves.  If you have a trigger for such things, be warned.  There is plenty of wrongdoing going on in the slave owner's family and we see how various people deal with the isolation and despair caused by their situation.

I was not very fond of the main character, Lavinia.  I am more used to books with take charge kinds of women.  Lavinia was very passive about her situation.  She also seemed to wait for men to save her.  This is probably how women behaved in that time period, but I still found it to be annoying.  The women who were slaves were often more active in protecting themselves than Lavinia.  In their small actions of defiance, these women found ways to survive the horrors of that time.

I believe the author, Kathleen Grissom, did extensive research on the workings of a plantation and the book reflects this in it's attention to detail.  I found it eye-opening to see how the overseer could manipulate certain situations to profit from a plantation owner's lack of involvement in the day-to-day running of the business.  The overseer could take some of the rations meant for the slaves and sell it, leaving just enough for the workers to get by.  So, even if an owner thought he giving sufficient supplies, the slaves may not have gotten it.  This increased the hardships for the slaves.  

This is a page-turner as events unfold and one can see a disaster looming ahead.  I stayed up late several nights, not realizing any time had gone by because I was so absorbed in the plot.  This is why I read lots of books.  I want to be transported to times and places I couldn't ( and wouldn't want to) actually experience.  It's one thing to read about slavery in history books, and quite another to be shown the human toll in a compelling story.  I hope you will read this book.  I was very moved by the characters and plot.

Source: Borrowed from a friend (Thank you)
Format:  Paperback
Recommendation: A powerful novel about slavery. If you have triggers for abuse, do not read this book.
Will I read more from this author:  Yes!

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