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The Kitchen House is the perfect book for the summer season. You will be transported to a rich, abundant, and beautiful plantation. There will be a big white house and tall leafy trees to shade you from the sun. The smell of delicious food will waft out to greet you on a gentle breeze. If that alone is not enough to make you sigh, contented to leave your boiling home behind, then there will be gossip, drama, violence, and love enough to make you stay a while.
I've read plantation era literature before and while I don't claim to be an expert, I am not completely new here. Lavinia, our foremost narrator, is a little cliche. It seems to me that many books of this style center around a white girl who grows up living with slaves, only to become a white woman in the south who abhors slavery. Based on modern literature you would think all white women in the south befriended slaves as children and spent their adult lives trying to free these friends while being oppressed by a white male society who wants everyone in the world to serve them on bended knee. While women like this did exist, I'm pretty sure they weren't as common as such novels suggest.
Even though she is a little over-baked, Lavinia remains a compelling character. An indentured servant from the age of seven to the age of 20, Lavinia lives a life somewhere between that of a slave and that of a free woman. She remains far more privileged than a slave due to her skin color, but the connection between her and the house servants makes more sense than that of many plantation heroines.
Arriving at the plantation at age 7 Lavinia is sick, dying, and her memory is impaired. It isn't until quite some time has passed that she remembers the family that passed on without her. During this time Lavinia is nursed back to health by her adopted African-American family and comes to view them as her new family.
Lavinia's primary care taker is Belle, who we soon come to learn is the illegitimate daughter of the plantation owner. Belle is beautiful and full of spunk, but we watch as life's unfair hand steers Belle in one direction and Lavinia in another.
Secret relationships develop, scandals ensue, irrevocable decisions are made. The Kitchen House will quickly draw you in as a bittersweet escape from everyday life. Let yourself be inundated by the terribly wonderful world that Grissom paints.