The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom
I decided to read The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom at the recommendation of a friend who has never steered me wrong, especially in the realm of historical fiction. Once again she suggested an engrossing book that I couldn’t put down.
The Kitchen House takes place during the turn of the 19th century on a plantation in the South. The book goes and back forth between two first person narratives. One narrative is from Lavinia’s perspective. Lavinia, as a child, came to America an indentured servant. When her parents die on the voyage over, she gets taken in by a plantation owner. She is given a home in the kitchen house that is run by the plantation owner’s illegitimate daughter, Belle. The second narrative comes from Belle. Lavinia comes to look at Belle and the other slaves on the plantation as family and has a hard time understanding why there are differences between them because of the colors of their skin. As Lavinia grows older, she becomes more accepted by the members of the “big house,” eventually being forced to make choices that lead to consequences for those she has come to know as her family.
In looking at other reviews of this book, it seems as though the range goes straight from “absolutely loved it” to “worst book ever”- no in-between. And honestly, I get that. The people who hated the book compared it to an overly-dramatic “Lifetime drama” kind of book. And yeah, ok, one bad thing after another happens and you think “is there any hope for the characters in this book?” But see for me, I didn’t mind that. I’m one of those people who doesn’t need everything to be happy. Sure it might be a little melodramatic. But it worked because this book was one of those tragically heartbreaking stories that make you think “how is it possible that our nation allowed slavery for so long?” So I personally tipped more towards to the “absolutely loved it” side of the scale. Sure, the writing style isn’t anything groundbreaking, but I thought Grissom weaved a tale between the two narratives that sucked its reader in effortlessly.
Did you read this work of historical fiction? If so, what side of the scale did you fall on?