Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

Lavinia tells most of this story and she is a meek, gentle soul. On her way from Ireland, Lavinia is orphaned on a ship and the Captain takes her to his plantation where she is raised by the black folks that work there. One of those folks is Belle, the Captain's illegitimate daughter who people mistakenly think is his mistress. Lavinia develops close, caring relationships with her family and slowly heals from the loss of her family from Ireland. She also becomes friends with the Captain's wife and two children thus learning about the world of whites versus the world of slaves.

The beginning of the book was intriguing with Lavinia transforming from a withdrawn, traumatized child to one who could laugh again. The slaves at the farm are caring and loving. They look out for each other (unlike the white people in the house) and they try to do the right thing at the risk of their lives. Mama Mae and Belle help Lavinia although Belle has to learn to accept her at first. Then the novel changes and loses it's authenticity. Misunderstandings, bad romances, and bad happenings pile up like rocks in a quarry and just when someone is going to enlighten another character, there is an interruption and the character never finishes the sentence. The result is major misunderstandings. The technique was used so much I was gritting my teeth by the end.

The author does a nice job showing how Marshall became such a twisted, evil person. He is not a one-dimensional villian. That's why I thought Lavinia was out of character at the end when she doesn't grieve. The characters seem to act dumb in spots in order to move the plot along. Wouldn't Lavinia figure out about Marshall's tutor as an adult? Wouldn't she put two-and-two together? And wouldn't everyone know on the plantation about Belle's parentage?

The author really nails the beginning theme of families not having to be of the same color but then seems to go overboard as the plot unravels into a series of bad romances. There is plenty of emotional appeal to this story if you can overlook the plot. A story with much promise, but in the end doesn't deliver. If you'd like to try a children's book on a similar controversial topic but explore the theme of how a good man can own slaves and coin the phrase "all men are created equal" then try Jefferson's Sons.

3 Smileys

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