Orphaned during her passage from Ireland, young, white Lavinia arrives on the steps of the kitchen house and is placed, as an indentured servant, under the care of Belle, the master’s illegitimate slave daughter. Lavinia learns to cook, clean, and serve food, while guided by the quiet strength and love of her new family.
In time, Lavinia is accepted into the world of the big house, caring for the master’s opium-addicted wife and befriending his dangerous yet protective son. She attempts to straddle the worlds of the kitchen and big house, but her skin color will forever set her apart from Belle and the other slaves.
The Kitchen House is a captivating story of found family on a plantation before the Civil War. Told from two different perspectives, the details really make this story what it is, drawing you into their lives. Even though you know terrible things will happen, you can’t look away.
Everybody keeps so many secrets, and it never ends well. While (mostly) everyone has the best intentions, it never works out in the way they’re hoping. In reality, this is probably a pretty happy story compared to what many experienced during this period, but it certainly isn’t happy. And all this secret keeping only adds to the hurt and longing everyone feels.
Lavinia drove me crazy. So many of the terrible things that happened in The Kitchen House only happened because she was incapable of understanding how the world works. She can’t possibly be as naive as she’s made out to be, and instead, it makes me sad to think she’s probably just dumb and entitled. Lavinia is kind to others around her as long as it’s easy, but every time she encounters an obstacle, it doesn’t take long for her to give up. She’s given every advantage but always makes the wrong decision, believes the wrong person, asks the wrong questions, and ends up putting others at risk. However, something about her still won me over – which may actually be even more frustrating.
I wish Belle’s chapters had been longer. Her story is so much more interesting than Lavinia’s. Belle has so many more barriers to overcome with much less power to work with, and she does it with a quiet grace (or, more accurately, resignation) that Lavinia never masters. She still makes plenty of mistakes, but she always seems to pay a much higher price for them.
I thoroughly enjoyed this story and am looking forward to reading Glory Over Everything. Jamie is such a strange side character in The Kitchen House, I’m intrigued to see where Grissom goes with him.