Amanda Gates

Book: The Kitchen House

It’s always hard to know what to say when you enjoyed reading a book about complicated, and frankly disgusting, issues. “I loved it!” doesn’t quite seem right when you’re reading about the hardship of war or child abuse or eating disorders or drug addiction. Or, in the case of The Kitchen House, when you’re reading about the turn of the 19th century when people were bought and sold, raped, beaten and killed in the South.

The Kitchen House focuses on a young Irish girl named Lavinia, who finds herself owned by a ship captain and placed under the responsibility of Belle, his slave who works in the kitchen house. As Lavinia grows up as an indentured servant, she’s taken in by the slaves on this plantation as one of their own. Because she’s white, she winds up getting some extra opportunities and her role in the family (either family) gets confused. The book follows Lavinia from about age 7 to 27 and then briefly beyond.

The book covers the classes of slaves on the planation; those who work in the quarters are worse off than those who work up closer to/in the Big House. The book covers different types of plantation owners—those who are kind and those who are not so kind. The book discusses the loneliness a woman of the Big House might go through when she’s in the middle of nowhere without her husband raising his children. The book highlights in depth the hidden relationships among the slaves, among the slaves and the owners and among the owners—these relationship consist of all the same people but can be so, so different.

It’s easy to fall in love with many of these characters, but all through the book you don’t know if you should. You have no idea what their fate will be. I found myself trying to protect my heart in a way because I wasn’t sure how long some of these wonderful, soft-hearted people were going to be around.

I won’t lie, the book is sad up until the end. There are only brief moments of joy, yet the book is so gripping and engaging that you just kind of embrace the sadness and keep reading. While I didn’t love it, I did like it a lot, even though it broke my heart.

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