Chrissie's Reviews > The Kitchen House

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom
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's review
Apr 26, 11

bookshelves: race, usa, hf, kirkus, text-checked, kindle
Recommended to Chrissie by: Barb
Read from April 05 to 10, 2011


On completion: Four stars! I know I really liked the book, but why, and what is it that prevents me from giving it five stars? You keep turning the pages, I kept wondering what is going to happen next? Yes, a lot does happen, and sometimes it does feel a bit melodramatic given all the shit that hits the fan. What happens does not feel impossible, but sometimes I found myself thinking that the blacks absolutely never were as bad as the whites. Let me say once again, the story does not feel unbelievable. The characters are nuanced; you come to understand the different individuals as having particular character traits and you understand why they make they make the bad choices they make.

Everyone reviewing this book emphasizes the importance of the theme family plays in the book. I agree it is a major theme, but for me the central focus of the book was what the absence of family feels like. What are the consequences of loosing your family? Any cursory review of this book reveals that Lavinia, the white girl living as an indentured slave in a Virginian slave plantation is an orphan. I found it particularly eye-opening to see how she matures and how her life and her character were so closely influenced by her being an orphan. This theme of losing family was reiterated in other events too. I felt I left the book with a deepened knowledge of how it might feel to be an orphan. It is this that I most appreciated about the book. Lavinia's lack of security, her shyness, her entire way of being taught me a lot.

Another central theme concerns the cruelty of the white masters' rape of black women. We have all read about this, but I believe this book brings it home with a punch. It is not just the physical act, but also the consequences, that are brought to life. I do not consider this a spoiler, it is pretty obvious this will occur given the subject matter of the book. By reading this book, you learn the true pain these women experienced.

However, there are a number of things that bothered me about the book. As mentioned above, the black people really never did anything that was evil. They made mistakes, but you understood them. They clearly made fewer mistakes than their white counterparts. The reader does come to understand their misdeeds too. However, I felt that balance was a little bit lacking.

I have a further complaint. It is with the author's note at the end of the novel. It made me uncomfortable. I didn't believe it. I wish she had not emphasized the veracity of this story.

But overall, I couldn't put this book down. It very well portrayed the life on a Virginian tobacco plantation at the end of the 1700s and it offered interesting insights into how it might feel to be an orphan.


Through page 55: I thought this would be melodramatic. It isn't! I see this as reality. this is how life played out on Southern plantations in Virginia in the latter part of the 1700s. And now I finally understand who is who. I understand the inter-racial situation. Any reader cannot help but understand the tensions inherent to such a situation. As always in life, there are kind and evil people on both sides of the divide. Really, you do not want to put the book down. I know have my family charts drawn :0) It is just to read and enjoy. The author cleverly shows different perspectives by flipping between two narrators - Lavinia and Belle.

ETA: Oh yum, Belle is makking apple butter preserves. I have made that for my kids. Waste not, want not. I put all the bottles up in the cold attic. One day I found them up there eating apple butter with spoons, emptying bottle after bottle. Good stuff!


Having so far only read 30 pages, this seems to be just exactly the kind of book I was looking for at this moment - something to sink into, a book that will carry me away into another world, time and place. A book that will draws me to the characters and their lives. I assume you you all know this is about a small, white Irish child, whose parents die on the boat over to America. It takes place at the end of the 1700s. The captain doesn't know what to do with this child. She is sick, no one would buy her, so the only option is to take her home with him and give her to his black slaves. She can help in the kitchen. I don't really know who is who yet, more than you do. I do know that this little girl is called Lavinia. I do know that there are kind, loving relationships in this "family" of black slaves. I am guessing this could be a rather melodramatic story, but certainly not stereotyped. It has been called the revers "Gone with the Wind", in the white child is a slave. She has no higher standing than the slaves. Interesting premise. There is already clear foreshadowing..... The book starts at the end but then flashes back to the beginning, only I already have an idea about the ending! This doesn't bother me b/c I feel pretty darn sure the passage thorough the book will be pure escapism and a fun ride.

And you know me...... the prose style is ever so important! I like it. Look at the following lines. Look at what they say about the individuals:

Fanny hoped that the freckles across my nose would fill in to give my pale skin more color. (page 19)

Fanny, a black child of the same age as Lavinia, was worried about Lavinia's pale white skin! Cute, don't you think?! The following is also cute. Lavinia is always sucking her thumb.....

How could I fly with my thumb in my mouth? he wanted to know.... (page 20)

Ben a black, strapping youth of 18, voiced this. Ben gave Luvinia her first bird nest. Collecting abandoned bird nests became one of her favorite pastimes. She lined up that first one next to the homemade doll she received from Mama Mae. I know terrible things will happen, but I also know that this book will exhibit kindness and loving too.

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Comments (showing 1-32 of 32) (32 new)

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message 1: by Hayes (new)

Hayes Look forward to your review. This one is calling to me: "Read me... read me...."

Chrissie I have heard both positive and rather non-comittal views. I see it as an engaging story to sink into.

Lynne Just persevere through the beginning. I thought it got better, but I think I'm too distracted these days to really love a book.

Chrissie I kind of relized that Lynne. I just want an easy book to escape into. I think this will fill the bill. Take care. I will be testing the Kindle in the car. I wonder if I can read in the dark with the lit cover?

CeeAnne This was a five star book for me. I really hope that you love it.

Chrissie Is it possible that I already understand what happens in the beginning of the book - the green scarf? It doesn't matter. Don't tell me... I still nedd to see if I am right, and I want to know these characters more in depth.

Lynne Have you ever been to Williamsburg ?

Chrissie No, is that where this takes place?! Thanks for filling me in. I am even more additcted to atlases than I am to books. I really wanted to know where this was taking place. I haven't read much so I knew I had to be more patient.

I like the description of the traditions, the sayings, the houses, the food and the lifestyle of that time period. I find it all well depicted, particularly the contrast between the blacks and the whites and where they merge! I just plain like sinking into their world.

Lynne Williamsburg is the "big city". Several important sections take place there. My sister and I enjoying wandering the re-created village there, so I could visualize the lay-out of the city.

Chrissie I must say it is always fun if you have been in the place where a book is situated. It adds something. Your memories come back and you remember exactly how it looked. You just see everything with different eyes. That is fun Lynne that you have been there!!!

Diane D. Chrissie, I am thrilled you are reading this. I like how it starts at the end, and then the story weaves back in time. The characters and the story have stayed with me still. FYI the author is working on a sequel I hear.

Chrissie Diane, I enjoyed it very much. What particularly struck a chord with me was how well being an orphan was portrayed. I have finished the book and written a review. I will add it here when I get a chance..... We have been sucking up the sun and walking on the beaches of Brittany. Oscar and I are happy, but we could have stayed longer if I were to decide!

Diane D. Were you on vacation? Never long enough! I'll read your review and we can chat about the book. Off to work now though :(

Chrissie Yup, I was. Blah for bringing in the dough, but it is necessary.

message 15: by Dem (last edited Apr 27, 2011 11:56AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Dem I read this book last year and really liked it and suggested it for our bookclub read and everybody enjoyed it and it gave plently of material for discussion.

CeeAnne I always love how you review books because I really get a feeling for how it was for you.

message 17: by Lee (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lee Ditto

message 18: by Lisa (new) - added it

Lisa Vegan Ditto. Ditto. Great review, Chrissie. I'll have to try to get to more of the ones you have from your vacation period, but right now it's off to try to read more of my novel, which I am loving.

I do have to get to this one. I love indentured servant stories and I really love family loss/lack stories. It is on my infamous to-read list. Of course.

Diane D. Lisa, a must read for sure.

Diane D. Chrissie wrote: "Yup, I was. Blah for bringing in the dough, but it is necessary."

Work - necessary evil :)

message 21: by Lisa (new) - added it

Lisa Vegan Diane D. wrote: "Lisa, a must read for sure."

Maybe I'll try to get my book club to read it.

Diane D. It would be a great book for bookclub.

message 23: by Lisa (new) - added it

Lisa Vegan Diane D. wrote: "It would be a great book for bookclub."

I just added it to my group's shelves.

Chrissie To all of you, it isn't so bad being back in Brussels where I can talk with you guys!!!!! I am really, really glad I get across what the book gave me. I think this helps people figure out whether it will do the same for them. We all like and dislike different things. If one doesn't explain carefully why you like or dislike it, with clear examples, then a reader of the review cannot possibly determine if the book will fit THEM! Isn't that the point of the review?! To help eachother find the books that will fit their particular interests. And I like blabbing about what the book does to me...... I admit, I get terribly involved in my books. I escape in books. It is the books that do nothing to me that drive me buggy.

Thanks all of you.

Lisa, you MUST read it!

message 25: by Lisa (new) - added it

Lisa Vegan Chrissie wrote: "Lisa, you MUST read it!."

Okay, Chrissie. Thanks. I'll try with my book club first but eventually will read it either way. I'm glad you're back too! I just wish you had internet at all your addresses and could spend more time out of the city, since that's what you prefer.

Chrissie Well, city offers osome things and country/village life other things. Each has its advantages.

message 27: by Barbara (new) - added it

Barbara Nice review, Chrissie. Welcome back! Have you been traveling?

Chrissie Thanks, Barbara. We were in Brittany, France over Easter.

message 29: by Gina (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gina I saw how you noted what the absence of family resulted in in this book. I agree. You could see early on with Marshall where if his family had had any real love or concern for him, they could have intervened, could have taught him what was right, and healed his wounds...maybe have saved him...and then you saw how he hardened further and further until he was beyond bringing back. I also liked how you mentioned that the author brought through the realities of the aftermath of the rapes, and not just the initial outrage. There is so much in this book. It's phenomenal.

Chrissie Gina, there are many things parts of this story that stay with you long after reading it! It is fun that you reacted as I did to many book points!

message 31: by Marick (new)

Marick Great review. I agree, too, with your comment about the author's note at the end. Quite unnecessary. For me as well, I felt that the last page was very rushed. Surely after all that, she could have written a few more paragraphs to make it seem less like she was tired of writing the novel already and just wanted to end it.
Great point about the slaves never doing any wrong; I hadn't noticed that when I read the book, but looking back on it now, I feel silly for missing it.
All in all, a great book, but there was something lacking in it to bring my rating up from 4 to 5 stars.

Chrissie Pauline, it makes me happy that you appreciated my review, and thanks for telling me. I really, really try and reserve 5 star ratings for the amazing books! It is fun that we both thought 4 stars was right.

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