Book Reviews

Kathleen Grissom- The Kitchen House



New York Times bestselling author Kathleen Grissom was the keynote speaker at the Navigating Your Writing Life conference in Charlottesville, VA. She told the fascinating story behind the story of her novel, The Kitchen House. While restoring a plantation tavern in southern Virginia with her husband, (and researching its past) she found a map with the notation “Negro Hill.” Intrigued by the mystery behind its name, she contacted historians but wasn’t able to find any information. One morning after talking a walk, Grissom recalls a scene playing through her mind like a movie- a little white girl chasing after her mother and ultimately discovering a black woman hung from an oak tree. She quickly jotted down the scene (which ended up as the prologue to The Kitchen House ) and slipped the papers into a drawer. Sometime later, her father told her a story about a white Irish girl who came to the US by ship with her parents and brothers. Her parents died during the journey, the boys survived, but no one knows what happened to the little girl.

These two events led Grissom to write her novel through the point of view of two girls, circa 1791. Seven-year-old Lavinia McCarten is a white girl whose parents die on a ship from Ireland. Lavinia and her older brother are sold to separate plantation owners to work as indentured servants. Eighteen-year-old Belle Pyke is the illegitimate black daughter of Captain James, a Virginia plantation owner. Belle takes Lavinia under her wing, and teaches her how to clean, cook, and serve Captain Pyke and his family. Lavinia and the black kitchen help form such strong bonds that Lavinia starts to refer to them as her family. One of my favorite passages of the book is on page 26, when Lavinia (or as the kitchen help call her “Abinia”) asks Papa George if she can be his girl even though she’s white. His response is priceless: “Abinia,” he said, pointing toward the chickens, “you look at those birds. Some of them be brown, some of them be white and black. Do you think when they little chicks, those mamas and papas care about that?”  However, when Lavinia and members of the Pyke family grow close, she finds out how hard it is to toe the line between her black and white family. Both Belle and Lavinia endure emotional and physical abuse, lose their mothers and fathers as well as a plethora of friends to death, are heartbroken by the men they love…  I think The Boston Globe sums it up best as: “A touching tale of oppressed women, black and white… about love, survival,  friendship, and loss in the antebellum South should not be missed.”

From the first page of the prologue, I was hooked on The Kitchen House and I believe it is  destined to become a classic which is “a book that never finished saying what it has to say.”  (Journalist Italo Calvino’s descriptionof a classic). It’s a hauntingly beautiful must read!


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  1. Thank you, Kristy, for that wonderful review! How lucky am I to have met you!

  2. That sounds amazing.

    It’s going on my list.

    I don’t often put books on my list anymore. Really. I read a lot of writing/book blogs. But I can’t wait to read this one.
    Katie Cross recently posted…Need Some Blog Love? Post Your Links Here!My Profile

  3. In my Amazon cart! Thanks for this review. :) You da best!
    Casa Mariposa recently posted…Slightly Tongue-Tied TuesdayMy Profile

  4. Pingback: Book Review Links

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