The Kitchen House: A Novel by Kathleen GrissomThe Kitchen House: A Novel by Kathleen Grissom

The Kitchen House: A Novel

byKathleen Grissom

Paperback | February 2, 2010

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Kathleen Grissom, New York Times bestselling author of the highly anticipated Glory Over Everything, established herself as a remarkable new talent with The Kitchen House, now a contemporary classic. In this gripping novel, a dark secret threatens to expose the best and worst in everyone tied to the estate at a thriving plantation in Virginia in the decades before the Civil War.

Orphaned during her passage from Ireland, young, white Lavinia arrives on the steps of the kitchen house and is placed, as an indentured servant, under the care of Belle, the master’s illegitimate slave daughter. Lavinia learns to cook, clean, and serve food, while guided by 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, Grissom’s debut novel unfolds in a heartbreaking and ultimately hopeful story of class, race, dignity, deep-buried secrets, and familial bonds.
Born and raised in Saskatchewan, Kathleen Grissom now lives in Virginia, where she and her husband live in the plantation tavern they renovated. In addition to The Kitchen House, she is also the author of Glory Over Everything.
Title:The Kitchen House: A NovelFormat:PaperbackDimensions:384 pages, 8 × 5.25 × 0.7 inPublished:February 2, 2010Publisher:TouchstoneLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1439153663

ISBN - 13:9781439153666

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Rated 5 out of 5 by from LOVED IT I absolutely loved this read! It grips you with back stories right to the very end and leaves you wanting to know the rest of the main characters life beyond the book. I recommended it to my mother in law and she also felt that it was a page turner!
Date published: 2017-07-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Gripping Tale Kathleen Grissom was born and raised in Saskatchewan, Canada even though she now lives in Virginia.  The Kitchen House tells the story of Irish orphan Lavinia McCarten whose parents have died on the voyage to the new world and, as they owed Captain Pyke for their passage, he puts Lavinia in the Kitchen House to earn her keep.  Belle, Mama Mae, her twins, Beattie and Fanny, Dory, and Papa George become her new family as she learns new ways of life on a Virginia Plantation.  The novel has two narrators, Lavinia and Belle, so some events are particular to the narrator —either flashbacks or unwitnessed by the other narrator — and some from a more mature and knowing point of view. When Lavinia arrives at Tall Oaks she is 6 years old and has no memory.  Belle is in charge of the kitchen house and quickly becomes exasperated with Lavinia — who they all call Abinia — because she either won't eat or throws everything up and doesn't say 'boo'.  Mama Mae takes things in hand soon Abinia, Beattie, and Fanny are a threesome and Lavinia starts to feel like she has a family.  She meets Marshall (11) and Sally (4) from the big house but sees them rarely.  Because she starts out as a fairly timid little thing, she often sees things when others don't see her and she develops an empathy for Marshall who has acquired a loathsome tutor and is subjected to much abuse.  The other evil character in the story is the white overseer of the field hands, Rankin, who thinks he has full charge of the big house as well as the fields when the Captain is away.  Lady Martha, the captain's wife, leads a lonely life and becomes dependent on Lavinia and "little black drops" when the captain is gone.  She also suspects her husband of having an affair with Belle and transmits her hatred of Belle to Marshall. This is a well-told, well-researched story of Lavinia's coming of age and coming to grips with racial hatred, entitlement, sexual harassment, and finding her true place.  To some, it may seem a old story told in a different way but to others, it will be fresh and poignant; we may feel we are familiar with the cruelty of slave conditions but it is a shame that should never be forgotten and the ending to this story is a triumph in ways to a new way of life for which many are still waiting.  It's worthwhile reading the bookclub questions and the interview with Kathleen at the back of the book as well as checking out the continuing story of Jamie Pyke in Glory Over Everything.  There is also an interesting video by the author talking about her books and research on YouTube.  A touching story woven through human adversity and a victory of the human spirit.
Date published: 2017-07-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of my favorites Stunned is the word that best describes how I felt after finishing The Kitchen House last night. There is so much tension in this book that I sometimes felt I was living the story rather than reading it. The author's vivid and detailed descriptions certainly contributed to that. This is definitely a gripping read, and a chapter doesn't go by without something big happening. Although tragic, the events are not too detailed and the book is not gruesome. The author's attention to detail and the characters' distinct voices are what makes the story come to life, while the beautiful writing makes this a work of art. This is one of my new favorite books. In fact, my only complaint is that the book didn't go on. I still need to know what happens next to the characters. I hope Glory Over Everything brings me some answers.
Date published: 2017-06-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from So many feels! I gave this a 4.5,because I thought the ending was a bit rushed, I could have easily read another 200 pages of this book. I fell in ove with the characters and wanted to beat up some of them so hard! The writhing is simply amazing and oh, so real! I will be frank: this was the underdog of my bookhaul. It was a buy 3 get 1 free and it was the last one I picked and it turned out to be the best. I will buy the sequel for sure!!!
Date published: 2017-05-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Heartwrenching What an awful book! Not the writing; the writing is beautiful and mesmerizing. But the story...the story is brutal and nauseating. So much violence done by white men to both african-american slaves and white women. It's just horrible to think that so much of this actually happened over and over again, to countless people. I do not blame those women one bit for taking the "black drops" to escape. I loved the characters. All of the babies being passed from household to household, women to women was fascinating. The relationships that the author weaved were beautiful. I particularly loved the conversation between Mama Mae and Abinia, where Mama assures here that family ties are much deeper than colour or names. I look forward to reading the sequel that came out a couple of months ago.
Date published: 2017-04-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from heartbreaking story The story is so well written, I could not put it down, it's sad and heartbreaking , hard to believe that such an events took place in american history.
Date published: 2016-12-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This Book Will Forever Be In My Top List This book is AMAZING. Kathleen Grissom did such an amazing job in this book and the second one "Glory Over Everything". She brings out love, anger, hurt, shock and the most, sadness in her writing. There are some hard parts to read, and it really makes you think about how awful it was back in that time. You get lost in this book and while I was reading this I was envisioning everything I was reading, her writing was so well done. Once I finished these books I actually felt sad that it was over and I really hope she will write a third one! This book is powerful and will always be in my list of my top favourite books.
Date published: 2016-11-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of my new favourites Wow! This book had me hooked! The details are so rich, enabling you to picture the whole scene before your very own eyes. I was transported to the early 1800s and through the characters, understood the heart-breaking injustices of slavery. The twists and turns in the plot had me gasping out loud. I definitely recommend this read!
Date published: 2016-11-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from FANTASTIC This is an absolutely wonderfully written book! I'm an avid reader and this is by far one of the best. Looking forward to starting the sequel today! There were many HARD parts to read & digest, the sadness wouldn't let up....but every moment was worth it. Be strong, persevere and keep reading. I would highly recommend!
Date published: 2016-06-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Human Story I've read both, The Kitchen House and Glory Over Everything. In this book, the first of the two, tells a very gripping story about human beings living in the age of slavery. We don't find out why this story was written, until the end of the book. But as I read, I was struck at just how awful it was to be a slave, man or woman, in those times, and just how little the white man respected nor cared about his slaves, beyond what he could take from them, and/or do To them. This was not a pretty story, It was ugly, vile, and unforgiving. I fell in love with some characters, and hated others. Being in recovery, I admired the way she fleshed out a main character who was an alcoholic. This is truly an emotional ride of a read. It brought up many emotional responses as the story was told. I read Glory Over Everything first, out of order, and going back to the first book, The Kitchen House, answered all those questions I had because I read, out of order. This series is well worth the read time. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.
Date published: 2016-06-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderfully written A story about slavery with very well written characters you will love and hate. This is a page turnerwhere the fate of the characters pulls you in so far that you must read on. Emotionally charged. You won't want it to end. The author's comments about her inspiration for wrting this story are intriguing.
Date published: 2015-07-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Kitchen House A generous read indeed! Great story from beginning to end with no lulls. Great character development without superfluous detail to bore. Surprises keep you interested throughout. Kept me up too late several nights did this book. Worth every penny.
Date published: 2015-01-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Kitchen House A story of slavery as told by Lavinia. This young Irish girl is raised by and nurtured by Negro slaves in the 1700s. Many loving characters are brought to life by the author and their story needed telling. Great work.
Date published: 2015-01-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The house kitchen Great characters. Would be and excellent book club read with thought provoking questions at the end of the novel.
Date published: 2014-10-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A PAGE TURNER I did not want this book to end. It stirs up a lot of emotion in a person, as it brought me to tears and made me laugh too. I would recommend this book to anyone, especially my girlfriends. I good representation of what slavery was like and how lucky we are. The author made the story really come alive!
Date published: 2014-09-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved it! Wow! You have got to read this book. I am on an antebellum kick and this one was an incredible journey back to that time.
Date published: 2014-07-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Kitchen House I thought this was an excellent book...written well and a completely new view of slavery.
Date published: 2014-07-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Kitchen house Thoroughly enjoyed every page
Date published: 2014-05-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Kitchen House One of the best books I've ever read!
Date published: 2014-04-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Sad but good Really good book
Date published: 2014-04-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Sad but good A great read! I couldn't put it down. I actually read it in one night, the dialogue flows so well, one can hear the voices of all the characters. I highly recommend
Date published: 2014-01-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Sad but good Good read that moves along smartly .Characters are well developed highly recommended read most enjoyable
Date published: 2014-01-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Sad but good An amazing read, in this book we see the hardship and certain privileges given to a white indentured servant. But we are also reminded of the unjust and of the hell that blacks slaves had to deal with at the same time. The book demonstrates a lot of contrast between being a black slave and being a white indentured servant and the stress of both groups not mingle.
Date published: 2014-01-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Sad but good Absolutely amazing read! Great story line from beginning to end. A must read book.
Date published: 2014-01-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Sad but good Loved this book. The relationships between the characters were complex and interesting. The story itself was interesting and unique. It was a great read and I look forward to more by this author.
Date published: 2014-01-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Sad but good this is an amazing book which brings you right into the lives of the people who were there. compelling -- a must read!
Date published: 2014-01-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Sad but good What a wonderful book and an interesting perspective. Definitely worth the read. I'm excited to check out more books by this author.:-)
Date published: 2014-01-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Sad but good A fantastic read... hard to put down!
Date published: 2014-01-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Sad but good This is a book that you won't be able to put down. Full of pain, drama, suffering from people of the lowest and highest circumstances. If you enjoyed "The Help", you will enjoy this.
Date published: 2014-01-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Sad but good I thoroughly enjoyed this book. We also read it for my Book Club and was enjoyed by everyone. You know it's a good book when you can't wait for an opportunity to pick it up again.
Date published: 2014-01-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Sad but good This book was such a fascinating and interesting read. I really enjoyed the story from the different character's perspective and how they were woven so well to create a book I couldn't put down!
Date published: 2014-01-25
Rated 3 out of 5 by from The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom The Kitchen House is a very engaging story and I couldn’t put it down. I would be at a friends house about to watch a movie when the other couch and my book would beckon to me, and I would go read instead. There isn’t very much happiness to be found in this book, for any of the characters. It reflects on the 19th century problems of racism and social status while breaking the heart of the reader through and through. The author continually allows you to get comfortable after a tragedy in the plotline only to have another one lined up and ready. The continuous rape, and the chaos that proceeded when a child was born got a bit repetitive. Much drama happens all throughout the story, and it can get tiresome but all the same I kept wanting to read on. I was reminded of the classic movie Gone With The Wind, a tragic story with too many tragic twists. Of course those qualities are what make the story realistic and almost addicting, as well as giving readers a look into history. Well done Grissom. a 3.5 OUT OF 5 Check out my blog for reviews!
Date published: 2013-08-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Must read! I couldn't put it down, I was so fascinated by the story. It's not an easy book in terms of content because it's so tragic. Every little triumph in the story seems to be followed but yet another defeat but the extend of human spirit and determination is admirable. I felt connected to all the characters, felt their pain and joy, was angered by the injustice bestowed upon them and I truly did not want the story to end. One of my favourite all time books.
Date published: 2013-01-03
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Tragic I read this book over a period of two months, and for whatever reason never got into it enough to give it rave reviews. That said, this is a tragic story that highlights the strength of the human spirit in the face of very serious adversity and evil (hello ... Marshall?!). You'll root for Livinia and her adopted family, to be sure; but my favourite chapters were the ones Belle narrated. I could see where this would be a good bookclub book, but I found it mostly heart-wrenching.
Date published: 2012-11-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A book with a big heart. Wonderful characters, heart wrenching at times to think of how difficult life was for blacks living as slaves in the 1700's. From the very first page you are drawn into the lives of Belle and Lavinia. The two narratives read beautifully, one into the other, seamlessly and not at all confusing. I did have trouble putting it down at times and wanted desperately for things to work out. Only a talented writer can make you feel so much for the characters, and Kathleen Grissom certainly was up for the task with this novel.
Date published: 2012-05-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Love it I loved every minute of this book. I was complety absorbed in it and had trouble putting it down. I read alot and I find very often books melt into each other and I mix up plot lines. Very rarely do books stick out in my mind, there have been about 5 over the years and this is one that I remember clear as the day I read it. Very enjoyable read.
Date published: 2012-03-08
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Was Not For Me. Unfortunately I did not care for this book and is one of only two that I did not finish (The Thirteen Tale being the other one). I also didn’t care for most of the characters and could not force myself to see where this tale was going and just wasn’t interested enough to find out. Having read ‘The Help’ recently perhaps interfered with my impression of this book as I had been totally enthralled with ‘The Help’ and enjoyed it immensely.
Date published: 2012-03-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Couldn't put it down! What a wonderful read! Kathleen Grissom is an amazing author! I was attached to every character! Great read! Highly recommend.
Date published: 2012-01-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing read. I loved everything about this book. The writing, the story, the characters, the setting, the cover, everything! Lavinia and Belle become apart of your life as soon as you start reading. Such rich details I could picture the story in my mind as I was immersed in the lives of the people of Tall Oakes plantation. Remarkable read.
Date published: 2012-01-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Now that's what I call storytelling! The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom is exactly the kind of book I love, characters that you fall in love (or hate) with, and a setting you feel transported to- all woven together by a truly gifted storyteller. This novel is told through two viewpoints, Lavinia, a young Irish girl who's parents die on their voyage to America, and is subsequently made an indentured servant to the Captain in order to repay her family's debt and Belle, a beloved daughter of the Captain's, who also happens to be one of his slaves. This story is entirely captivating from the first page to the last, the characters are authentic, well developed and Grissom does an exceptional job with the flow of the story because there is never a moment where it falls into a lull. I highly recommend this novel, it's really does have it all!
Date published: 2011-05-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from "TOP" READ OF 2011....FANTASTIC!!! It is 1791 and Lavinia McCarten only remembers being handed from a white man to a black man and hearing instructions to: “Give her to Belle. She’s hers for the kitchen” and looking up to see a huge clapboard house that was painted white and had an enormous porch framing the entire length of the front of the house. Belle worked in the kitchen house as a cook for the Pyke family. Lavinia, almost seven-years-old had been taken from a ship coming from Ireland after her parents both died and her brother, Cardigan, was sold. She was a frail girl who vomited up all food and liquid she was fed but with Belle’s persistence Lavinia was soon eating and feeling well. Now living on a large tobacco plantation she grows up part of the black slave families. Mama Mae, Belle, Ben, Pappa, Dory, Fanny, Beattie and a whole slew of other characters who all take her under their wing and come to love her as if she was their own. The call her Abinia and the black children become her brother’s and sister’s. Captain Pyke and his wife have two children themselves, four-year-old Sally and eleven-year-old Marshall who Lavinia will someday get to know better than she had ever anticipated. One day all the children are playing and Marshall being a rather outspoken boy with a nasty, violent streak pushes his sister Sally too hard on the swing and she ends up dying! Of course Marshall blamed Ben, one of the black slaves and he was about to be hung until Belle pleaded with Marshall to tell the truth that he had in fact pushed Sally off the swing. Marshall was silent own defense and only with Belle’s pleading that they were going to kill Ben did Lavinia blurt out that Marshall had done it. As the story goes on it alternates being told both by Lavinia and Belle which was an awesome way to tell this particular story and important for reasons you’ll see when you’ve read the book yourself. Marshall becomes a more and more sinister and violent young man who grows into an even more abhorrent adult and the troubles Lavinia suffers through as well as all the black slaves, derives from or through Marshall. The violence, the action, the drama, the fast pace will keep you glued to the edge of your seat. I read and read and read and read late into each night for two nights until I’d finished and then was sorry I read it so quickly. This is one novel I hope and pray the ghosts of the past pester Ms. Grissom to pen a sequel. Excellent, excellent debut novel! Standing ovation for sure, DON’T MISS THIS ONE!
Date published: 2011-01-05
Rated 3 out of 5 by from 3.5 I read this book for a reading challenge and had wanted to read it for a number of months. I wanted to really like the story, especially in the final third of the book, but I felt that the book didn't really grab me by the end of the book. It was a really good book and I really liked the premise of the novel, but it seemed to lose a little steam by the end of the book and a bit of the luster of the book that I had with the book had disappeared. I was probably thinking to highly the book too much but it did disappoint me and I am glad I didn't buy the book.
Date published: 2010-12-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another All Time Favorite Orphaned on the overseas journey from Ireland to America, Lavinia is taken by the captain back to his tobacco plantation in Virginia where she is to work in the kitchen house. Although set-apart from the other slaves by the white of her skin, Lavinia soon finds herself adopted by her black counterparts. As she becomes accustomed to life as a slave and grows attached to her new family, the dividing line between what’s black and white becomes blurred. As she grows up it becomes clear that the color of Lavinia’s skin is going to have a greater say in her future than she would like. Destined for a different fate than those around her and not wanting to abandon those she cares for most, Lavinia is left with some heart-wrenching decisions that offer no other outcome than tragedy. “...I would be in a position to cast favour on my waiting family, and I spent many hours daydreaming of how we might improve on their homes and find ways to ease their workload. I took the fantasy so far that I even believed it possible Marshall would give them their freedom one day...” The Kitchen House, page 233. The Kitchen House is one of the most powerful novels I have read to date. Alcoholism, abuse, sexual violence and murder are some of the most painful aspects that make up this tragic yet heart warming tale of slavery at the turn of the nineteenth century. I am often irked when an author generates too many characters in their story, but in this case I found it more of a blessing. I fell in love with every last one of them. From the innocent Lavinia and her surrogate mother Belle to the evil and tormenting overseer Rankin, every one of Kathleen Grissom’s characters is as memorable as the rest. All of the characters illicit a deep sense of concern for their wellbeing. I truly could not put this book down. Any time I would myself thinking ‘yes, aha, I know exactly how this is going to turn out’, low and behold it turned out a far cry different. As painful and tragic a story as it is, I simply did not want it to end. The dual narratives of Lavinia and Belle were, at first, somewhat irritating, but as the story progressed, I found myself anticipating the other character’s perspective. In the end, the only real bone I had to pick with Grissom was her lack of detail when it came to the most tragic scenes in the novel. A murder and several incidents of violence occur and are not accounted for very well. All of the positive events are described so as to leave the reader feeling overwhelmed as if they were actually there, but the darkest aspects of the story were swept away quickly perhaps to make it less traumatic for the reader. I was so engrossed in the characters lives that I truly wanted to be able to experience these tragic events with them so as to be able to further that connection. The story was still fantastic, but I think it would have benefitted even more from a better account of these dark details. Lastly, I have to give Grissom kudos on what to me seemed like a very original twist on a widely covered topic. It could just be that I’m Canadian and am not as up on the history of slavery as I should be, but I can’t recall ever having heard of white indentured labourers during the time of slavery and found this a very appealing twist.
Date published: 2010-09-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Literally could not put it down... Every so often a book just reaches out and grabs you. The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom was one of those books for me. It's 1791. Lavinia is 7 yrs old and her entire family has perished on the boat from Ireland to America. The captain takes her to his own plantation as an indentured servant. She is sent to live with the slaves who run the kitchen house. Abinia, as she comes to be known, is welcomed into the hearts and homes of Mama Mae, her daughter Belle (who is the captain's illegitimate daughter) and their extended families. They love her as one of their own, despite the fact that she is white. As Lavinia grows, she is taken to the big house to help with the captain's wife, who is battling an addiction to opium. It is here that Lavinia finally has to acknowledge the chasm between black and white, master and slave. And where her place is. As she grows older, circumstances conspire and she is forced to make difficult choices that have grievous repercussions. This is s a very bare bones synopsis as there is so much more to this book. Grissom forced me to break one of my cardinal rules. I never, ever, read ahead in a book. I got so caught up in the story, the characters and the hurtling plot that I was reading way too fast to take it all in. I had to find out what happened, then go back and slowly take the journey to the event. Grissom's descriptions of the settings, social life, characters and dialogue truly had them jumping off the page. Indeed, Grissom herself says that "For the most part, Lavinia and Belle dictated the story to me. From the beginning it became quite clear that if I tried to embellish or change their story, their narration would stop." I became invested in each and every character, loving some and hating others, but each evoking emotion is this reader. The Kitchen House is told in alternating chapters from Lavinia and Belle's viewpoints The same event takes on very different hues when seen through another set of eyes. Slavery is a main theme of the book. But slavery in many different forms - addictions, societal expectations and mores as well as racial. But so is strength, again in many forms. I literally could not put The Kitchen House down. It's destined to be a keeper in my library.
Date published: 2010-06-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A page-turning must-read! The Kitchen House was an absolutely wonderful reading experience. What I liked best about this book were the characters. They became people I wanted to know. When something good happened I was happy for them and sad when a not-so-great event occurred. The author made fictional characters seem so real that they jumped off the page. More than once I was brought to tears and felt real sympathy for these people. Most of the characters were complex personalities dealing with complex problems. Though the main antagonist (and it could be argued just who the main antagonist is) is not likeable, the character was written with sympathy and while I did not excuse his behavior, I could easily understand the reasons behind his conduct. The other great thing about The Kitchen House was the plot. My heart was pounding after reading the first page. I didn’t know exactly what was going on but the small bit that I read gave me a powerful sense of fear, anxiety and curiosity. From there on, the story developed into the drama, hardship and joy a close-knit family experiences in the slave quarters of a large plantation. The story moved quickly and I was so engrossed I couldn’t believe it when it ended. I still want to spend time with these people! I loved The Kitchen House and wholeheartedly recommend it for book clubs – I think it would generate very lively discussions.
Date published: 2010-05-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Kitchen House I know a book is going to be great when one of two things happen, either I am laughing out loud agreeing with everything, or I'm crying. This book has done what only one other has in the past, had me crying less then ten pages in.The first paragraph of the Kitchen House is fast paced and seems to grab at your throat, hooking you and forcing you to pay attention to the lead character. Plot: Lavinia is an Irish orphan who is brought home to a plantation, where she's given to the kitchen staff. A white girl in the middle of the 1700's working and living as if she is black. Belle, her new adoptive mother, is the daughter of the plantation owner, but banished to the servants quarters. Both find themselves struggling to live a life torn between these two worlds. As each grows into her own identity, she must face the outside world that is no bigger then the farm they are indebted to. This story unfolds in the voices of both women, each chapter a parallel of the one before it, giving you a view from the "big house" (Lavinia) and the smaller "kitchen house" (Belle). This novel is not for the weak of spirit. There were moments where I was shocked at passages but loved the fact the author Kathleen Grissom was not afraid to explore the territory. Rape, incest, slavery, addiction, faith, hope. The story itself covers only a part of their lives, roughly twenty years, but weaves a tapestry that covers more. Not since Anne Rice's Feast of All Saints, have I come across a novel that dared to speak honestly about a time in history that helped to change the structure of things. There were moments when my mind was drawn to a comparison of Jane Austen's Mansfield Park in the lighter sense, of Lavinia's own improved "banishment" to a more wealthy aunt and uncle. As I read this, I found myself asking the questions "what are we willing to do for love? How far are we willing to go? What secrets are we willing to keep? What boundaries are we willing to cross? And what would you do for your family to keep them safe?" The novel is hauntingly beautiful in it's own spirit and gracious in it's unapologetic tone.
Date published: 2010-04-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from good. good. good! This novel was good from the first page to the very last. After picking it up several times at the store, i finally bought it and read it in two days. It has history, romance, and tragedy. the writing has a nice flow and the descriptions are great.
Date published: 2010-04-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Compelling and tragic This novel is a tragic look into the often ugly past of southern USA and the social hierarchy of the slave trade. It is narrated by two women from very different backgrounds, and it successfully shows the strength of family bonds that go beyond color and status. It is brutally honest and not for the faint of heart, but I would highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in this era of our past.
Date published: 2010-04-08

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The Kitchen House CHAPTER ONE 1791 Lavinia IN THAT SPRING OF 1791, I did not understand that the trauma of loss had taken my memory. I knew only that after I woke, wedged between crates and bags, I was terror-stricken to discover that I did not know where I was, nor could I recall my name. I was frail after months of rough travel, and when the man lifted me from the wagon, I clung to his broad shoulders. He was having none of that and easily pulled my arms loose to set me down. I began to cry and reached back up for him, but he pushed me instead toward the old Negro male who was hurrying toward us. “Jacob, take her,” the man said. “Give her to Belle. She’s hers for the kitchen.” “Yes, Cap’n.” The old man kept his eyes low. “James! James, you’re home!” A woman’s call! Hopeful, I stared up at the enormous house in front of me. It was made of clapboard and painted white, and a wide porch framed the full length of the front. Towering columns circled with vines of green and violet wisteria stood on either side of the broad front steps, and the air was thick with the fragrance this early April morning. “James, why didn’t you send word?” the woman sang out into the morning mist. Hands on his hips, the man leaned back for a better view. “I warn you, wife. I’ve come home for you. Best come down before I come up.” Above, at a window that appeared open to the floor, she laughed, a figure of white froth capped by billowing auburn hair. “Oh no, James. You stay away until you’ve been washed.” “Mrs. Pyke. Prepare yourself,” he shouted, and bounded over the threshold. Inside, he continued to shatter the peace. “Where is everyone?” I heard him call. “I’m home!” At a run, I began to follow, but the dark old man caught my arm and held me. When I fought him, he lifted me up, and I screamed in terror. Swiftly, he carried me to the back of the house. We were high on a hill, and out farther, lesser hills surrounded us. A horn blasted, frightening me further, and I began to hit at my captor. He shook me firmly. “You stop this now!” I stared at him, at his foreign dark brown skin that contrasted so with his white hair, and his dialect so strange that I scarcely understood. “What you fightin’ me for?” he asked. I was exhausted by it all and dropped my head on the man’s thin shoulder. He continued on to the kitchen house. “Belle?” the old man called. “Belle?” “Uncle Jacob? Come in,” a feminine voice called, and the wooden door creaked as he pushed it open with his foot. Uncle Jacob slid me to my feet while a young woman came slowly down the stairs, then came forward, quickly tying a band of green calico around a thick braid of glossy black hair. Her large green eyes grew wide in disbelief as she took me in. I was comforted to see that she was not as foreign-looking as the man who had brought me to her, for though her light brown skin still differed from mine, her facial features more resembled my own. Uncle Jacob spoke. “The cap’n send this chil’ to you. He say she for the kitchen house.” “What’s that man thinking? Can’t he see she’s white?” The woman sank in front of me and turned me around. “You been sick?” She wrinkled her nose. “I’ve got to burn these clothes. You nothing but bones. You wanting something to eat?” She pried my thumb from my mouth and asked if I could speak. I could find no voice and looked around, trying to place myself. Belle went to the enormous fireplace that stretched the length of the room. There she poured steaming milk into a wooden mug. When she held it to my mouth, I choked on the milk, and my body began an involuntary tremor. I vomited, then I passed out. I AWOKE ON A PALLET in an upstairs room, too frightened to move after realizing that I still had no memory. My head ached, but when I rubbed it, I withdrew my hands in shock. My long hair had been cut short. I had been scrubbed pink, and my skin was tender under the coarse brown shirt that covered me. My stomach turned from the scent of unfamiliar food rising up the open stairway from the kitchen below. My thumb pacified me, and I soothed myself as I studied the room. Clothes hung from pegs on the wall, and a pole bed stood off to one side with a small plain chest next to it. Sun streamed through a window, open and undraped, and from the outdoors came the sudden peal of a child’s laughter. It rang familiar, and forgetting all else, I sprang to the window. The brightness stung so that I needed both hands to shade my eyes. First all I saw was rolling green, but below the window, I saw a path. It cut past a large fenced-in garden and led to a log house where, on steps, sat two small dark brown girls. They were watching a scene up toward the big house. I leaned out farther and saw a towering oak. From a thick low branch, a little girl on a swing sang out to a boy behind her. When he pushed the swing, the little girl, all blue and blond, squealed. The tall boy laughed. There it was again! A laugh I recognized. Driven by hope, I ran down the wooden stairs, out the open door of the kitchen, and up the hill to them. The boy pulled the swing to a stop, and the two gaped at me. Both had deep blue eyes, and both exuded vibrant health. “Who are you? Where did you come from?” the boy asked, his yellow hair glinting in the bright light. I could only stare back, dumb in my disappointment. I did not know him. “I’m Marshall,” the boy tried again, “and this is my sister, Sally.” “I’m four,” said Sally, “how old are you?” She tapped the air with her blue shoes and peeked out at me from under the flopping brim of a white bonnet. I couldn’t find a voice to answer, so I felt a rush of gratitude for Marshall when he pulled the attention away from me by jiggling the swing. “How old am I?” he asked his sister. “You’re two,” said Sally, trying to poke at him with her foot. “No, I’m not.” Marshall laughed. “I’m eleven.” “No, you’re two,” teased Sally, enjoying a familiar game. Suddenly, I was swooped up in Belle’s arms. “Come back in,” she said sharply, “you stay with me.” Inside the kitchen house, Belle set me on a corner pallet opposite a dark brown woman who was suckling a baby. I stared, hungry at the intimacy. The mother looked at me and although her face was young, she had deep lines around her eyes. “What your name?” she asked. When I didn’t answer, she continued, “This be my baby, Henry,” she said, “and I his mama, Dory.” The baby suddenly pulled back from her breast and gave a high shrill cry. I jammed my thumb into my mouth and shrank back. NOT KNOWING WHAT WAS EXPECTED of me, I stayed put on a pallet in the kitchen. In those first days, I studied Belle’s every move. I had no appetite, and when she insisted that I eat, my stomach emptied violently. Each time I was sick, it meant another cleaning. As Belle’s frustration with me grew, so did my fear of upsetting her. At night I slept on a pallet in a corner of Belle’s upstairs room. On the second night, unable to sleep, I went to stand at Belle’s bedside, comforted by the sound of her soft night breathing. I must have frightened her, for when she woke, she shouted at me to get back to my own bed. I scurried back, more afraid than ever. The dark haunted me, and with each passing night I sank further into loss. My head throbbed with the struggle of trying to remember something of myself. Thankfully, relief from my sorrow came just before sunup, when the roosters and the horn called everyone to rise. Then another woman, Mama Mae, joined Belle in the kitchen. The two women worked easily together, but I soon sensed that, though Belle was in charge of the kitchen, Mama Mae was in charge of Belle. Mama Mae was a woman of size, although nothing about her was soft. She was a sober woman who moved like a current, and her quickness made it plain that she did not suffer idleness. She gripped a corncob pipe between her tobacco-stained teeth. It was seldom lit, though she chewed the stem, and after time I decided that it served the same purpose to her that my thumb did to me. I might have been more frightened of her had she not given me an early benediction of her smile. Then her dark brown face, her flat features, and her black eyes wrinkled into kindness. In the days that followed, I no longer tried to eat, and slept most of the time. On the morning Mama Mae examined me, Belle watched from across the room. “She’s just being stubborn. When I get her to eat, she just brings it up, so now I’m only giving her water. She’ll get hungry soon enough,” Belle said. Mama held my face in her strong hand. “Belle!” she said sharply. “This chil’ not fightin’ you. She too sick. You got to get her to eat, or you gonna lose her.” “I don’t know why the cap’n give her to me. I got enough work.” “Belle, you ever think maybe when I first find out they movin’ you to the kitchen house, I think that way ’bout you?” “Well, I sure wasn’t making a mess, throwing up all over you.” “No, but you was ’bout the same age, maybe six, seven years at the time. And you was born and raised here, and you still carried on,” Mama Mae scolded. Belle was silent, but following that, she was less brusque with me. Later that day, Mama Mae killed a chicken. She made a broth for me, and for the first time my stomach tolerated something other than water. After some days of this healing liquid, I began to eat and then to retain solid food. When I became more alert again, Belle began to quiz me. Finally, summoning all of my courage, I managed to convey that I had no memory. Whether it was my foreign accent or Belle’s surprise at my information, I do not know, but she stared at me, disbelieving. To my enormous relief, she didn’t question me further. Then, just as things began to settle, Belle and I were called to the big house. Belle was nervous. She fussed at me with a comb until, in frustration, she finally wrapped my head in a scarf to cover the chopped mess that was my hair. I was dressed in a fresh brown shirt that fell below my knees, over which Belle tied a white apron that she had stitched hastily from a kitchen cloth. “Don’t suck your thumb.” Belle pulled my swollen finger from my mouth. She stooped down to my level and forced me to meet her eyes. “When she ask you anything, you say, ‘yes, ma’am.’ That’s all you say: ‘yes, ma’am.’ Do you understand?” I understood little of what was expected, but I nodded, eager to still Belle’s anxiety. I FOLLOWED CLOSELY BEHIND BELLE on the brick path that led us up to the back porch. Uncle Jacob nodded solemnly while holding open the door. “Clean those feet,” he said. I stopped to brush fine dirt and sand from my bare feet, then felt the smoothness of the highly polished wood as I stepped across the threshold. Far ahead, the front door was open, and a light breeze swept down the long hallway, past me, and out the open back door. That first morning I did not note the mahogany highboy standing sentry in the hall; nor did I see the tall blue and white tulipier, displayed proudly as the latest expense from across the sea. I remember very clearly, though, the terror I felt as I was led to the dining room. “Well! Here they are!” the captain’s voice boomed. At the sight of me, little Sally squealed, “Look, Marshall! It’s that girl from the kitchen. Can I play with her, Mama?” “You stay away from her,” the woman said, “she looks sick. James! Whatever …” “Steady, Martha. I had no choice. The parents died, and they owed me passage. Either she came with me, or I had to indenture her out. She was sick. I would have got nothing for her.” “Was she alone?” “No, she had a brother, but he was easy enough to place.” “Why’d you put her in the kitchen house?” Marshall asked. “What else could I do?” his father replied. “She has to be trained for some use.” “But why with her!” Marshall nodded toward Belle. “That’s enough, son,” the captain said, waving me forward. “Come here, come here.” Though now clean-shaven and dressed as a gentleman, I recognized him as the one who had lifted me from the wagon. He was not a tall man, but his overall size and his loud voice put forth a large presence. His gray hair was tied in the back, and his deep blue eyes peered at us over spectacles. The captain looked past me. “How are you, Belle?” he asked. “Fine, Cap’n,” she replied softly. “You look fine,” he said, and his eyes smiled at her. “Of course she’s fine, James, why wouldn’t she be fine? Look at her. Such a beautiful girl. She wants for nothing, head of a kitchen at her young age, and practically owning her own fine house. You have your pick of beaus, don’t you, Belle?” The woman spoke quickly in a high voice, leaning her elbow on the table as she pulled repeatedly at an escaped strand of her red hair. “Don’t you, Belle? Don’t they come and go?” she asked insistently. “Yes, ma’am.” Belle’s voice was strained. “Come, come,” the captain interrupted, and again waved me forward. Closer to him, I focused on the deep lines that creased his weathered face when he smiled. “Are you helping in the kitchen?” he asked. “Yes, ma’am,” I croaked, anxious to follow Belle’s instruction. The room exploded in laughter, though I saw that the boy, Marshall, did not laugh. “She said ‘yes, ma’am’ to you, Daddy.” Sally giggled. The captain chuckled. “Do I look like a ‘ma’am’ to you?” Uncertain of my answer, for I did not understand this unfamiliar form of address, I anxiously nodded. Again there was laughter. Suddenly, the captain turned, and his voice boomed. “Fanny! Beattie! Slow down, you’ll blow us out of the room.” It was then I noticed the two small dark-skinned girls and remembered them from the first day when they had been seated on the steps of the cabin. Through kitchen conversation, I had learned that they were Mama Mae’s six-year-old twins. Now they stood on the other side of the table, each pulling a cord. The cords were attached to a large fan suspended from the ceiling that, when pulled, flapped over the dining room table like the wing of a gigantic butterfly, thereby creating a draft. With the excitement of the laughter, their enthusiasm was overventilating the room, but after the shout from the captain, their dark eyes grew solemn and their pulling slowed. The captain turned back. “Belle,” he said, “you’ve done well. You’ve kept her alive.” He glanced down at some papers before him and spoke directly to me after skimming a page. “Let’s see. You’ll soon be seven years old. Is that right?” I didn’t know. In the silence, Sally chirped up, “I’m four years old.” “That will do, Sally,” Martha said. She sighed, and the captain winked at his wife. When he removed his spectacles to better study me, I felt faint under his scrutiny. “Don’t you know your age? Your father was a schoolteacher, didn’t he teach you numbers?” My father? I thought. I have a father? “When you feel stronger, I want you to work in the kitchen,” he said. “Can you do that?” My chest ached, and I was finding it difficult to breathe, but I nodded. “Good,” he said, “then we’ll keep you here until you’ve grown.” He paused. “Do you have any questions?” My need to know surpassed my terror. I leaned closer to him. “My name?” I managed to whisper. “What? What do you mean, your name?” he asked. Belle spoke quickly. “She don’t know her name.” The captain looked at Belle as though for an explanation. When none was forthcoming, he looked down again at the papers before him. He coughed before he answered. “It says here your name is Lavinia. Lavinia McCarten.” I clung to the information as though it were a life raft. I don’t remember leaving the room, but I surfaced on a pallet in the kitchen to overhear Uncle and Belle discussing the captain. He was leaving again in the morning, Belle said, and she was expecting a visit from him that evening. “You gonna ask for those papers?” Uncle Jacob questioned. Belle didn’t answer. “You tell him that you needs them now. Miss Martha got her eye on you. The cap’n know she take the black drops, but he don’t know that she drink the peach liquor with it. You gettin’ more pretty by the day, and after all that drinkin’, when Miss Martha pick up that mirror, she see that she lookin’ more than her thirty years. She out to get you, and time goes on, it only get worse.” Belle’s usual determined voice was subdued. “But Uncle, I don’t want to go. This place my home. You all my family.” “Belle, you know you got to go,” he said. Their conversation ended when Uncle Jacob saw my open eyes. “Well, well, well. Lil Abinya wake up,” he said. Belle came over to me. “Lavinia,” she said, pushing my hair from my forehead, “that name sounds like you.” I stared at her, then turned my face away. I was more lost than ever, for I felt no connection to that name. THE NEXT EVENING I WAS sent home with Mama Mae. I didn’t want to leave the kitchen house, but Belle insisted. Mama said that her twins, Fanny and Beattie, the two girls I had seen working the fan, would be there with me. On the walk over, Mama Mae held my hand and pointed out how the kitchen house was just a short distance from her own small cabin. Fanny and Beattie were there to greet us. I hung back, wanting to stay next to Mama Mae, but the girls were eager for a new playmate. They drew me into a corner of the small cabin to a shelf that had been carved into one of the logs, where their treasures were kept. The taller of the two, Fanny was the leader, with her mother’s quick eyes and direct speech; her arms and legs were like those of a colt. Beattie was short and plump, pretty already, with a broad smile emphasized by two deep dimples. “Look,” Fanny instructed me as she withdrew toys from the shelf. She handed down a doll-size table with two chairs, constructed of small twigs held together with bits of animal sinew. Beattie showed me her doll, then offered it to me to hold. I grabbed for it with such hunger that Beattie hesitated until her generous spirit won out and she released it. “Mama make her,” she said with pride, looking back to Mama Mae. I gripped Beattie’s prize, my heart pierced with longing. The doll was made of rough brown cloth; her eyes were stitched in black thread, while black wool stood out in braids. I fingered the doll’s shirt, styled like the one the twins and I wore. She wore a red apron, and I recognized it as the same fabric as Mama Mae’s head scarf. As dark descended, Dory and baby Henry joined us. They had frequently visited the kitchen house, where I had learned that Dory was Mama Mae’s eldest daughter. I liked Dory well enough, for she left me alone, but I wasn’t fond of the baby with his harsh cry. Although distracted by the girls and their play, I kept a close eye on Mama’s reassuring presence. When the door suddenly opened, a huge dark bear of a man stood framed against the even blacker night sky. I flew to Mama’s side. Fanny and Beattie scrambled to their feet and ran to the man, who scooped them up. “Papa!” they cried. After he released them, they went back to their play, and with Mama’s encouragement, I joined them. “Evenin’, Dory.” The man’s voice was so deep, he might have been underground, and when he paused by baby Henry’s mama, his large hand covered the top of her head. “How your lil one doin’?” “Not so good, Papa,” Dory answered, not looking up from the bench where she sat nursing her infant. The child fussed when she gently pulled his swollen hands out to show her father. “When his hands get big like this, he cry all the time,” she said. Her father leaned down and, with a knuckle, gently stroked the baby’s cheek. When he straightened, he sighed and then took a few giant strides across the floor to Mama Mae. The girls giggled and hid their eyes when their father reached for Mama, pulling her to him and playfully nuzzling her neck. “George!” Mama laughed, then shooed him off. When he stepped back, he caught my eye and nodded at me. I quickly turned away. Belle was expecting a visitor, Mama Mae said to the man, as though to explain my presence, and the pair exchanged a look before Mama Mae turned back to the fireplace. She scooped out stew from a black pot that hung over the open fire, and Papa set the filled wooden bowls on the narrow table. Then she brushed the coals from the top lid of another black iron pot that was nestled in hot ash, and from it she removed a steaming round corn cake, browned to crispness around the edges. The three adults pulled up small stools to the table, and Fanny and Beattie had me stand between them as they began to eat. But everything felt strange, and I wanted the familiarity of the kitchen house. With no appetite, I studied the food, and when Mama instructed me to eat, I began to cry. “Come here, Abinia,” she said, and after I went to her, she hoisted me onto her lap. “Chil’, you got to eat. You need some meat on them bones. Here, I dip this into the gravy for you, and you eat so you get strong as Mama.” The twins laughed. “You treatin’ her just like a baby, Mama,” Fanny said. “Well,” Mama said, “maybe she my new baby, and I got to feed her. Now you open your mouth, lil baby.” I so wanted her mothering that I ate the corn bread she dipped into the thick ham gravy. She continued to feed me as she spoke of the captain leaving and how Miss Martha’s nerves were running over again. Dory said she had to go back up to the big house tonight, no telling what Miss Martha would do when the captain left in the morning. Mama Mae said how she wished she could go stay with Miss Martha so Dory could stay with baby Henry. Dory answered with a deep sigh, “You know it’s me she be wantin’,” and Mama agreed. We had almost finished the meal when we heard muffled voices from the outside. Papa George began to rise, and my stomach clenched when Mama quickly set me aside. “No, George!” she said standing. “Me and Dory go. Won’t do nobody no good to throw another man in this stewpot.” I heard footsteps coming at a run, and when the door flew open, Belle came in gasping for air. Her green head rag was missing, and her usual night braid was undone. Mama Mae pulled Belle inside before she and Dory rushed out. Belle leaned against the wall, panting, then straightened herself before walking over to the table, where she sat across from Papa. Belle said, “She comes down after him this time. She never do that before. And Marshall, he comes with her. When she sees the new comb and the book he gives me, she takes them up and throws them at me. That starts Marshall pushing and hitting on me. The cap’n grabs him and sends him out the door, but then Miss Martha starts crying and hitting on him. He says, ‘Martha, Martha, get ahold of yourself,’ but she’s so worked up, he tells me to go get Mama.” Belle put her elbows on the table and rested her head in her hands. Papa shook his head. “Did you ask for the free papers?” he asked. Belle spoke through her fingers. “He says I’ll get them next summer.” The air clicked with Papa’s anger, and when he stood, he pushed back the table with such force that two of the wooden bowls flew to the floor. “Next year! Next year! Always the next time! Something’s gonna happen here if he don’t get you those papers!” When the door closed behind him, I was more surprised than anyone that my supper came up without warning. With it, though, I felt some relief, as my involuntary action seemed to refocus Belle and steady her while she cleaned me. The twins watched from their pallet, the sleeping baby Henry beside them. After Belle finished with me, she set me with them, then straightened the room. When everything was in order, Belle came to us, eased the sleeping baby into her arms, and nodded for me to join her. We were all startled to hear a loud thunking sound from outside, but as it continued, Fanny identified the source. “Papa choppin’ his wood again,” she whispered. When we left for Belle’s house, white moonlight offered only shadow on the far side of the cabin where Papa worked. “Papa?” Belle called softly. “Papa?” The pounding stopped. “Papa, don’t worry. I’ll get the papers,” she said into the silence.

Editorial Reviews

“The endearing characters ingratiate themselves in your heart. . . . I most definitely recommend this book.”