I have to start by saying I LOVED THIS BOOK. I got this as an audio book, a something to listen to that would ease my traffic woes and it WORKED. I can only concentrate on audio books in the car, so it got to where I was making up reasons to leave the house. A trip across the street became a reason to get 10 more minutes in. I savored every bite and morsel I could get, and though it only took me a few days to listen to it all, it felt like this book would never end, and yet I could not stop "reading".
Lavinia, orphaned at 7 years old, has been brought to Tall Oaks Tobacco plantation as an indentured servant. She's put under the guidance of Belle, Captain Pike's illegitimate daughter, and Mama Mae, the matriarch of the "family". Over the years, Belle begins to feel as if Tall Oaks is her home and the servants are her family, even though she is white and they are black. She also doesn't seem to know the difference between herself and the others and no one feels the need to point it out. Lavinia only learns that she is quite different when she is allowed to go to church and doesn't understand why her friends the twins must stand at the back of the church while she is allowed to sit up front.
Eventually, Lavinia is accepted into the world of the big house, where she finds that all that glitters is not gold. The Captain, though kind to his servants is absent and the mistress falls prey to an addiction. The Captain's family believe that Belle is the Master's mistress, not his daughter, so there is tension in the household among Belle and Mrs. Pike.
This situation, though not altogether pleasant, is not the nightmare it could be, and of course is too good to be true. When the Master falls ill and eventually dies, here comes trouble and the start fury and upheaval at Tall Oaks, so much that I could not mentally turn the pages fast enough. Captain Pike's son Marshall becomes the new Master and he is nowhere near the kind soul his father was. Tall Oaks descends into a nightmare.
The Kitchen House is full of suspense, and moments where I said loud, "No, don't!' and "Oh you dumbass!" and 'I want someone to shoot Marshall!"
I felt the main characters were well defined, and when even they weren't, it was frustrating, but fitting. The story bounces between Lavinia and Belle, and since we see the story through their eyes, feel their confusion and pain, it's only right that we don't know the entire story from everyone's point of view.
I found myself alternately rooting for and upset with Lavinia. Her naivete and ignorance was annoying, and the "family's" insistence on keeping her within that cloud made for a lot of drama. So many times, issues could have been resolved without punishment if someone would have just said something... but they decided not to and the drama continued.
I was completely enthralled with this story-- it is well written with an incredible climax and a satisfying ending. I would be very excited to read more from Kathleen Grissom. I very very rarely give five stars to a book, but this novel is simply perfection. As an added note, the narrators for the audio book are so well suited that when I re-read the print copy of this book, I will hear their voices in the back of my mind.
A wonderfully well written, compelling first novel.