In The Kitchen House, author Kathleen Grissom weaves together the stories of two women: Lavinia, an Irish immigrant who, in 1791, arrives alone in America at 7-years-old and becomes an indentured servant on a Virginia tobacco plantation, and Belle, the slave who takes care of her. Narrators Orlagh Cassidy and Bahni Turpin (known for her work as Minny in The Help) alternate chapters, so listeners get the same story from two very different perspectives both with their own unique voice. Both Lavinia’s Irish accent and Belle’s southern dialect are smooth and authentic, and as both characters interact with the same group of people, the narrators keep the secondary voices consistent; they can manage the white-collar accent of a Philadelphia society girl, the dangerous undertones of a malicious slave owner, and the distinctive voices of each of the plantation’s slaves with equal confidence.
Grissom, who says she was inspired by her own modern-day renovation of a Virginia plantation, fills the novel with careful details, historical touches, and believable racial and political tensions. As Lavinia grows up, she finds herself caught between the slaves that raised her and the white world that waits for her and her tone, naïve and uncomprehending when she’s not allowed to sit with her black friends in church as a child, matures along with her. She sounds weary and resigned (though still optimistic) when, as an adult, she faces similar challenges. As Belle navigates complicated relationships with her lover, parents, and siblings, the reading remains convincing, emotional, and satisfying. And when a generation of closely-held secrets leads to danger and tragedy for both women, each is forced to choose where her loyalties lay. Blythe Copeland
When a white servant girl violates the order of plantation society, she unleashes a tragedy that exposes the worst and best in the people she has come to call her family.
Orphaned while onboard ship from Ireland, seven-year-old Lavinia arrives on the steps of a tobacco plantation where she is to live and work with the slaves of the kitchen house. Under the care of Belle, the master's illegitimate daughter, Lavinia becomes deeply bonded to her adopted family, though she is set apart from them by her white skin. Eventually, Lavinia is accepted into the world of the big house, where the master is absent and the mistress battles opium addiction. Lavinia finds herself perilously straddling two very different worlds. When she is forced to make a choice, loyalties are brought into question, dangerous truths are laid bare, and lives are put at risk.
The Kitchen House is a tragic story of page-turning suspense, exploring the meaning of family, where love and loyalty prevail.
©2010 Kathleen Grissom (P)2010 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
“Forget Gone With the Wind. Belle and Lavinia, the heroines in this novel, will make Scarlett seem like a wimp in comparison….Together they narrate a story that grabs the reader and demands to be devoured. Wow.” (Minneapolis Star Tribune)
“[Grissom’s] debut twists the conventions of the antebellum novel....Provides a trove of tension and grit, while the many nefarious doings will keep readers hooked to the twisted, yet hopeful, conclusion.” (Publishers Weekly)
“Kathleen Grissom peers into the plantation romance through the eyes of a white indentured servant inhabiting the limbo land between slavery and freedom, providing a tale that provokes new empathy for all working and longing in The Kitchen House.” (Alice Randall, author of The Wind Done Gone and Rebel Yell)
This is a must-read. The amount of research and grace that went into constructing this story is astounding. I felt like I knew the characters; like I was present for the wonderous moments they shared and the horror that also ensued. This author did her work and I appreciate her art. This was an amazing book and I would recommend it highly.
I made it through the first two-thirds of the book and though I had a hard time with the premise I was following along hoping the characters would develop. Instead key characters fell apart and the story just rang hollow. I was very disappointed.
Want a book that will take you away, make you think, feel, laugh and worry... and ultimately be frustrated the book ended? This is it.
I listen to a lot of audiobooks during my long work commutes. This one was fantastic. I found myself listening to this audio even once I had arrived at my destination. Just sitting in my car-listening. The narrators are perfect-they kept me intrigued chapter after chapter. The story line was fast paced-a little depressing at times yes, but still a great story.
I had trouble listening to this, but when I did finish, I felt pretty irritable about it. Haven't we heard most of this story already without the little white girl tossed in? The whole thing was a literary large wad of gum: all the black folks were homey, courageous and honest; the white folks were mostly a bit vague or evil. None of them seemed particularly human. And are we to suppose that a young man was converted into a homicidal monster because of the hinted at sexual abuse?Also, "gifted" is a word that drives me nuts, but to hear it in this historic context . . . .arrrgh! And finally, the author's supposed connection to the "souls" of the character in her story (as if they channeled the tale) is way to woo woo for me!
I agree with one reviewer who said this story was one disaster after another, with very little good happening to the characters. I liked the readers and it was a good story of the period in the early 1800's. The story showed that the life of women and indentured servants was really no better at the time than the black slaves. They were all owned by someone and that someone might treat them cruelly, throw them in a nut house or do whatever they chose to them.
Many of the disasters hinged on the fact that Lavinia didn't know who Belle's child's father was, when the truth as staring her in the face from the time the baby was born. Sometimes you get irritated at characters who seem so willfully stupid or just don't open their mouths and ask the questions they need to ask. I know it's a plot device but still.....
The book had wonderful promise but became difficult to finish once I began to despise the protagonist. Why a slave family would stand by a white girl who brought them nothing but tragedy and misfortune is beyond me. Most frustratingly, Lavinia never grew as a character. I kept waiting for her to shed some of her naiveté, grow a pair, learn from past mistakes, gain some pluck and stop passively floating along.
Nope. She just stayed simple and sweet while repeating behaviors that held disasterous consequences for those she claimed to love. With friends (or family) like her, who needs enemies?
I really wanted to like this book, but found the story line and characters predictable and unremarkable. The central character, an Irish girl who ends up being raised by slaves on a tobacco plantation in post Revolutionary War south, is likeable, but lacks depth as a character. All the other characters are equally shallow and stereotypical. The plot is unsurprising as well.
However, if you're looking for good narration, Orlagh Cassidy and Bahni Turpin do a first class job and their voices were the only thing that kept me listening to the end.
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This book really draws you in, and the narrators are awesome. I highly recommend this book.
This book was superbly written and excellently narrated. My interest was kept the whole way through the story. The characters were believable, and the narrators each had a unique voice that was believable and consistent. I was particularly impressed with their abilities to switch between several different vernaculars and tones. I highly suggest purchasing this book.
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