The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom
(Summary taken from the back cover) “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.”
If you are looking for a light-hearted, fun read, this book is not for you. Wow. It’s a very interesting look into the lives of slaves, and the family, on a tobacco plantation. I found it very intriguing that not only was there a class system between the white people and the slaves, but also amongst the slaves themselves. The slaves who worked in “the big house” were treated better than those who worked the fields. They received different food rations and better living conditions. I found the treatment of all the slaves detestable. It surprised me that the women of the house were not treated much better than the slaves were. It seemed that they, too, felt like prisoners in their own homes. I felt bad for Lavinia. She was put in a very difficult position because of her circumstances. One day they treat her like a slave and the next day they expect her to be a “lady” and know everything about that. They also expect her to forget any relationship she may have had with the people around her. Ugh. I did not like Marshall. He is evil. And so is Rankin. And so is Mr. Waters. I loved Belle, Mama, Papa, Dory, Uncle, and Lavinia. I also liked Mr. and Mrs. Madden. Ben was an interesting character. He definitely had his faults, but he seemed to do the best that he knew how. I didn’t realize that drug addiction was so prevalent in the 1800’s. And, just be prepared for a very depressing ending. Sorry, it is what it is. I don’t think a happy ending really would have fit with the rest of the book, but oh my, did it need to be that sad???
This book is well written. The character development is really good. I did get confused with all the characters, but I figured it out by the end. I liked the writing style and read it quite easily and quickly. There is language in this book along with many other atrocities. I don’t know if everything that happened was typical of slave/plantation life, but if it was, I’m very glad I didn’t live during that time. There were rapes, murders, and beatings along with domestic violence, drug addiction, and death. Sounds happy, right?
I liked the book, but did not love it. It was a lot to take in. I’m glad I read it because it helped me see a different point of view of our country’s history. I would recommend it with the previous warnings.
Rating: R (This does not follow the movie ratings, exactly, it is just my way of saying that it is NOT appropriate for younger readers.) Rape, murder, domestic violence, abuse, beatings, language, intimacy.
Recommendation: 18 and up. I would recommend that parents read it first, because each child is different.