A Captivating Tale of Identity and Resilience in the Antebellum South

The Kitchen House is a gripping historical novel set in the late 1700s on a Virginia plantation. Lavinia, a young Irish girl who becomes orphaned during her voyage to America, is at the center of the story. The plantation owner takes her in and assigns her care to Belle, a black slave working in the kitchen house, for her care.

Lavinia grows up among the slaves, forming deep bonds with her new family, yet she also struggles with her identity and place in the world as she is neither fully accepted by the slaves nor the white family. The narrative unfolds through the perspectives of Lavinia and Belle, revealing the complexities of their lives and the harsh realities of slavery.

The novel explores themes of family, identity, and the brutal impact of slavery, offering a poignant and vivid portrayal of life in the antebellum South. Life at the plantation is grim. The vicious overseer starves, mutilates, and beats the field slaves while Lavinia looks on helplessly.

Eventually, Lavinia is accepted into the world of the big house, where the master is absent and the mistress battles opium addiction. After the captain dies, Lavinia marries his son, Marshall and at 17 becomes the mistress of Tall Oaks.

One aspect that stood out to me was the devastating impact of yellow fever during those times, which I had known little about before reading this book.

Unfortunately, I found some flaws in the writing. The second half of the book isn’t as fluid as the first, and occasionally, the author uses too much detail in describing her surroundings to the point I wanted to skip ahead.

The story is wonderful, though, not gratuitously emotional or disturbing, and well-paced. I’ve read many novels about slavery in the South, but the plight of a white indentured servant was a nice twist. It’s always hard to read about slavery, but understanding that time period is so important.

The Kitchen House was a Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Historical Fiction and for Debut Author in 2010 and I can see why. I look forward to reading more of Grissom’s work. 4 stars.


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