After reading The Hunger Games Trilogy, I thought it would take a while to find a book I couldn’t put down. Surprisingly, I found it just two books later. The Kitchen House is beautifully written novel full of despair, tension, history, and innocent love.
The prologue takes place in 1810. We join Lavinia, desperately running through the woods, her daughter in tow. They arrive on familiar land to find the horrific scene of a body hanging from a tree. We are then brought back 19 years earlier, to the year 1791.
Lavinia is brought over from Ireland as an indentured servant and arrives alone. She is cared for by Belle, joining her and others to work in the kitchen house. Initially Lavinia suffers from memory loss, illness, and a desperate need for compassion. Slowly, she regains her memory, health, and ability to speak again.
Hers is a unique situation I have not read in other books – a white girl with frizzy red hair and freckles, joining slaves in the south to work on a plantation. She wholeheartedly considers those she lives and works with as her adoptive family, and each character lovingly accepts this relationship.
Reality through her eyes is not the only child-like purity in the novel. The master’s daughter, Sally, is portrayed as “a generous and fun-loving child, innocent of all pretense. She insisted on bringing along her dolls and china dishes from the big house and always delighted in sharing them” (page 53). But anguish does not discriminate against race, age, or kindness, and not even Sally is protected from tragedy.
Over time, Lavinia’s skin color provides her with opportunity to study academics and social grace with the master’s sister-in-law and her family up north. Her eventual return home is accompanied by a new set of confusing rules and expectations.
The theme of not having control over one’s own freedom is a constant throughout the novel. In addition to the obvious topic of slavery, comes the expectations when playing the role as a wife, as a mother, a child. Which characters are free to escape their situations, and which are not. Unforgivable abuse, depression, addiction, and the exposure and acceptance of vile hatred imprison many. Others are trapped in a history doomed to repeat itself. Relationships are affected. I felt that those who were able to empathize were the most at peace. These characters, such as Mama, were the guiding lights that provided balance and understanding.
Eventually, we catch up to the scene from the prologue in 1810. A tense ending, not without tribulation and heartache, keeps you turning page after page.
Even after the book is finished and up on the bookshelf, you find yourself drifting back to the kitchen house and the characters in Kathleen Grissom’s amazing debut novel.