The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom – Book 45

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom is a very popular book!  My friend Mindy recommended that I pick it up, and then the wonderful elementary teachers where I used to work are also reading it for their book club meeting today!  Even though I’m far away from my Florida school, I was happy to be invited to join them digitally.

This novel is told from both the points of view of Lavinia and Belle, with the two women alternating chapters.  Lavinia is an Irish orphan who is taken in as a servant by a wealthy white family.  She ends up living with and working with the slaves that maintain the farm, working in the kitchen.  To her, these women and men are her only family, and she is welcomed with open arms.

Belle is a black slave who takes Lavinia under her wing, becoming like a big sister to her.  She has troubles of her own, being the mixed race daughter of the master of the home.  Will Belle ever get her free papers?  Does she even want them?

As Lavinia grows up, she is taken into the main house more often and accepted by the white family.  Can Lavinia find a balance among the white and black people who mean so much to her, when in fact showing loyalty to the wrong people could bring her and those she loves immense trouble?

The Kitchen House was a fantastic read.  It reminds me a little bit of The Help by Kathryn Stockett.  Both books have whites and blacks coming together in order to be friends, be a family, and try to solve problems while hitting severe resistance.  Of course, the book is also very different.  But if you enjoyed The Help, you will also enjoy The Kitchen House!

If you had to face the difficult choice of being free but having to leave your loved ones, possibly forever, what would you do?



31 thoughts on “The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom – Book 45

  1. We missed you today, Rebecca! I’m glad we can still discuss the novel here though. Let’s see. What can we discuss that won’t be a spoiler? Well, one question we all agreed on was which character we would choose in addition to Lavinia and Belle to be another narrator of the novel. We unanimously chose Mama Mae. How about you and any other readers? Do you agree, or would you like to see someone else as another narrator? Why?


    • I know! I wish I could have joined, even through Skype! I had forgotten that we had friends visiting, so I knew that my day would be too packed to find the time yesterday. I’m planning on it for March, though!!!

      I think Mama Mae would be a great narrator, because we really don’t have an adult narrating the novel, unless you count when Belle and Lavinia get older.

      Overall, Mama Mae would be the best, but just to switch things up, I also think it would have been interesting to have a male narrator since that was missing, too. Ben would be a decent narrator, but he wouldn’t bring anything new to the table. Marshall would be a totally different type of narrator, showing the rich, white (and not so nice) side.


      • A male narrator would have been interesting. After I posted last night I did think that if Marshall had been a narrator maybe we could have understood his character better, but it definitely would have been a much different book.

        Here’s another question from the reading group guide for you and any other readers. Why does the captain keep Belle’s true identity a secret from his wife and children? Do you think the truth would have been a relief to his family or torn them further apart?


        • Mini-spoiler alert: If you haven’t read the book, don’t read the rest of this comment!!!

          Maybe it was easier to “pretend” she was his mistress than an illegitimate daughter that he loved. I don’t know. . . it was such a strange time back then. I don’t think the information would be a relief to the family, though. But if the family was aware of the knowledge early enough, the children (maybe not Marshall, but who knows) would have been able to accept it. That’s a good question.

          What do you think, Kendra? Or other readers out there who read the book?


          • I think the captain felt like he had to keep Belle’s true identity a secret because of the time they lived in. Children of slaves became slaves themselves. Period. It didn’t matter who their father was. I don’t think he knew how to tell his sweet new wife that his first born was actually a black girl he owned. However, if he would have, I think Miss Martha might not have started using the drops. The thought that her husband was cheating on her with a slave broke her heart, and I think that was the main reason behind the drops for her. Also, Marshall may not have had such hatred for Belle if he had of known the truth and some of the tragedy in the novel could have been avoided. However he would have had a different circumstance to deal with that may have also brought hatred to his heart. The fact that Belle was his father’s true first born and not him.


            • Are you ready for another question from the reading group guide, readers? The last one was a bit of a mini-spoiler. Sorry about that! The next one shouldn’t be at all, and I have to admit it stumped me at first. Here it is:

              Discuss the significance of birds and bird nests in the novel. What or who do they symbolize?


              • I never even thought about it, but I would say. . .

                Birds nests are where life begins, the home for eggs. Lavinia was trying to find her “home” the entire novel.

                The birds are free, which is what the slaves, and Lavinia, want to be as well. But I don’t know much more than that.



                • Those are great thoughts about the birds and bird nests, Rebecca! I especially like the idea of connecting the bird nests to Lavinia trying to find her “home” during the entire novel.

                  When I first saw the question about birds and bird nests I immediately thought of a text to text connection to The Hunger Games and the mockingjays, but that is another story (or three) for another discussion (or three)!

                  I think the birds symbolize freedom. Now, thanks to Rebecca’s insightfulness, I also think that for Lavinia the bird nests symbolized her looking for her “home”.

                  A couple of thoughts about birds and bird nests from our book club meeting were freedom and birds having a spiritual quality.

                  Any more thoughts on birds and bird nests from anyone?


                  • Spiritual makes sense, too. Even though this isn’t necessarily a dove nest, the dove is a pretty spiritual bird, coming up in Biblical stories. I didn’t think about that at all.

                    And you’re such a teacher with that text-to-text connection! I do it all the time, too. But it’s true because both Lavinia and Katniss took comfort in their bird objects.


            • But could the thought of Belle being a beloved child have driven her to drugs as well? She still might have held a grudge there and had a tough time with the attention he gave to Belle. That could have broken her heart, too.

              Obviously that one incident with Marshall would never have occurred if he had known, but they might not have been any nicer to her, because of the time this book was set.


              • Yes, I do think the thought of Belle being a beloved child could have driven Miss Martha to drugs as well and might have broken her heart too. The heartbreak just wouldn’t be as much as thinking her husband is having an affair. That is the ultimate betrayal for a woman.


      • Even though we went over all these questions during the book club last Monday, it is great to see your prospective Rebecca with your feedback from Kendra! I think another part of the story which is significant is the question, “Would Belle, or any other of the slaves, have left it they got their freedom papers?”


        • Good question. . . I don’t think they would have, but I could see Mama Mae forcing the younger girls to go, in order to get them to safety. Even when separated by masters on two separate farms, they continued to risk their lives to visit each other.

          Belle made it very clear to us that she didn’t want to leave her family. I couldn’t see Ben leaving Belle either.

          What do you think?


        • I think the only way Belle or any other of the slaves would have left is if they all got their freedom papers so they could all leave together. I also think Belle wouldn’t have left, willingly at least, until after her father died.


            • Here is one last question that I wanted to ask from the reading group guide. Actually it’s four questions about the same subject.
              “I was as enslaved as all the others.” Do you think this statement by Lavinia is fair? Is her position equivalent to those of the slaves? What freedom does she have that the slaves do not? What burdens does her race put upon her?


              • Yes and no. Yes, she technically was enslaved and alone. But her white skin and heritage was a way to release her from her bondage at some point in the future (which happened). It’s not the same as slavery for life with a master. She was more of an indentured servant who was able to gain freedom. And the burdens that her race put upon her? Well, that was easy! Once she became a “lady” she was unable to keep those close family relationships she had previously.

                What do you think?


                • I agree with you, Rebecca.

                  I think she was definitely on a different level of enslavement than the others because she was to be released when she came of age. However, I don’t think her statement was unfair, because that was how she felt at the time. Plus she was too young to understand just how different her position was compared to the slaves.

                  I also think that her race put an enormous burden on her later in life when she wasn’t allowed to continue her family relationships with the black slaves who had raised and loved her from a young age. She loved and respected them so much, but wasn’t allowed to show that anymore.

                  Sadly, I think Lavinia was enslaved in some way her entire life. Even when she came of age and was considered a free woman, the circumstances of her life continued to enslave her. The rest of what I would like to say would be a big spoiler, so I will refrain.

                  Any more thoughts on this from anyone?


  2. I don’t think this will be a spoiler, but just in case someone out there wants to be truly surprised let me say: SPOILER ALERT. DON’T READ ANY FURTHER IF YOU DON’T WANT A HINT TO THE ENDING.

    In a way, yes, I think she was enslaved even at the very end. There was a big secret kept from her that stopped her from being with the person she truly wanted to be with and should have been with. Although the secret had nothing to do with her indentured servanthood, to me it enslaved her nonetheless.


  3. I was so happy to see that you had reviewed this book!I read the Kitchen House about two years ago, and it inspired me to read The Classic Slave Narratives by Gates, Uncle Tom’s Cabin by by Stowe, Jubilee by Margaret Walker, Stand the Storm by Breena Clarke, Cane River by Lalita Tademy, Their Eyes Were Watching God by the incredible Zora Neale Hurston, and others. And I urged my friends to read it. I love historical fiction and non-fiction, especially American history. I know there is often controversy in the literary world over the merits of historical fiction, but for me, and many other lovers of the genre, it entices you to read the real accounts, the recorded history. To me that alone gives historical fiction merit and value. I have so many of your reviews to go back and catch up on!


    • I also love historical fiction. I think it gets people interested in history and in aspects of history they may never normally be introduced to. Yes, some of the book is fictional, but you can learn so much! And many historical fiction novels have inspired me to google what was history and what was fiction! 🙂

      I read Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and to be honest, it draggggggged! But have you read Black Like Me? It’s about a white man who uses blackface to see what being black was like. It’s really good, and it’s nonfiction.


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