After putting it off for quite a while, I finally finished reading The Kitchen House this past week under deadline. I had to turn it in because someone else was waiting at the library to read it --- the nerve! ;-)
The Kitchen House takes place in late 1700s and early 1800s at a plantation in Virginia. The main narrator is an Irish girl named Lavinia who becomes an indentured servant at age 7 to ship captain James Pyke when her parents die during their passage across the Atlantic. The secondary narrator is Belle, a slave at the Pyke plantation assigned to work in the kitchen house (where all the cooking takes place) and happens to be Captain Pyke's illegitimate daughter who he conceived with one of his slaves. Lavinia is given to Belle to care for and instruct upon her arrival at the plantation. Much of the action in the book takes place in or around the kitchen house, thus, the books' title.
The author did an excellent job with the narrative. The voices were clear and distinct and I really enjoyed how she used dialect to make the characters spring to life on the page. It was interesting to read in the author interview in the back of the book that she had actually toned the dialects down to make for easier reading. There are so many surprises and twists in this book that I don't want to give too much away plot wise, but I must admit I did have a moment when I thought--- "Not Snow Flower and the Secret Fan again!!!!" I keep reading these books where characters keep secrets from each other, lie to one another, and don't communicate. I know this is how people are (being one of them and all), but oy! It drives me crazy when you can see that the character is about to go down in flames but they can't because they're too busy hiding their dirty deeds from the other characters.
All that being said, I really really liked this book. While I didn't connect with Belle very much (I had a hard time with her persistence in hiding a secret from Lavinia that could have saved EVERYONE a ton of trouble), I enjoyed reading Lavinia's narration and adored some of the supporting characters. Mama Mae, an older slave who works at "the big house", was one of my favorites. And while he made for quite the villain, the author made the Captain Pyke's son Marshall very believable and sympathetic. I can wholeheartedly recommend that you pick this one up.
On a unrelated note, we're entering the home stretch this week. The Cobbler returns from Germany on Thursday afternoon (with cheesy souvenirs in tow), and the house guests (all 8 of them) arrive for my sister Christy's wedding that night. Maybe I should think about cleaning...oh yeah, once I'm done with hemming my bridesmaid dress. :-)