Publisher: Touchstone; Original edition (Feb 2 2010)
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. (Click here to continue reading the synopsis
I've always shied away from certain topics: rape, abuse, slavery. My hesitation in reading this type of material comes from the extreme emotions that these elements bring out in me. I get very angry when people are not treated as they should be, at the cruelty of it all. The key element of The Kitchen House is slavery, so it's not normally something I would have picked up at a bookstore. Thanks to Loretta at Simon and Schuster Canada, I was able to review this book and found it gave me some additional insights as well as a unique take on the subject.
The story is told through two perspectives, the first being Lavinia, the young, white girl whose parents died on the boat going to America and who now must serve out their debt to the ship's captain. The second is Belle, the young woman working in the kitchen house on the captain's estate, who takes on the duty of caregiver to Lavinia. Belle is also the half white/half black daughter of the captain. Lavinia does most of the recounting, so we see things happening through very innocent eyes, but Belle's chapters also give us a better understanding of the truths the Lavinia is unable to fully comprehend at her young age.
I feared that the pace of this book would be slow but I didn't find that to be the case whatsoever. In fact, it really was hard to put it down. I think this comes back to my distaste for the subject and my desire for everyone to live happily ever after. The author held nothing back in this telling, from the punishments put upon the slaves to the captain's contradictions to a horrible scene with Sally, the captain's other daughter, this is a harrowing, plausible read full of emotion. It was sad, it had moments of humour, and it was full of love, regardless of the unconventionalities involved.
I'm glad I read it and would very much recommend this to lovers of historical fiction.