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The Kitchen House

The Kitchen House

A Novel

  • reading group guide
  • bestseller
  • freshman reading
In this gripping New York Times bestseller, Kathleen Grissom brings to life a thriving plantation in Virginia in the decades before the Civil War, where a dark secret threatens to expose the best and worst in everyone tied to the estate.

Orphaned during her passage from Ireland, young, white Lavinia arrives on the steps of the kitchen house and is placed, as an indentured servant, under the care of Belle, the master’s illegitimate slave daughter. Lavinia learns to cook, clean, and serve food, while guided by the quiet strength and love of her new family.

In time, Lavinia is accepted into the world of the big house, caring for the master’s opium-addicted wife and befriending his dangerous yet protective son. She attempts to straddle the worlds of the kitchen and big house, but her skin color will forever set her apart from Belle and the other slaves.

Through the unique eyes of Lavinia and Belle, Grissom’s debut novel unfolds in a heartbreaking and ultimately hopeful story of class, race, dignity, deep-buried secrets, and familial bonds.
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  • Touchstone | 
  • 384 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781439153666 | 
  • February 2010
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Video

"The Kitchen House" author Kathleen Grissom Gives Some Advice to Writers

Author Kathleen Grissom gives aspiring writers some words of wisdom.

Read an Excerpt

The Kitchen House
PROLOGUE



1810

Lavinia

THERE WAS A STRONG SMELL of smoke, and new fear fueled me. Now on the familiar path, I raced ahead, unmindful of my daughter behind me, trying to keep up. My legs were numb, unused to this speed, and my lungs felt as though they were scorched. I forbade myself to think I was too late and focused all my strength on moving toward home.
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The Kitchen House
CHAPTER ONE



1791

Lavinia

IN THAT SPRING OF 1791, I did not understand that the trauma of loss had taken my memory. I knew only that after I woke, wedged between crates and bags, I was terror-stricken to discover that I did not know where I was, nor could I recall my name. I was frail after months of rough travel, and when the man lifted me from the... see more

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for The Kitchen House includes discussion questions and a Q&A with author Kathleen Grissom. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

For Discussion

1. Why do you think the author chose to tell the story through two narrators? How are Lavinia’s observations and judgments different from Belle’s? Does this story belong to one more than the other? If you could choose another character to narrate the novel, who would it be?

2. One of the novel’s themes is history repeating itself. Another theme is isolation. Select scenes from The Kitchen House that depict each theme and discuss. Are there scenes in which the two themes intersect?

3. “Mae knows that her eldest daughter consorts with my husband. . . Almost from the beginning, I suspected their secrets” (page 107). 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? At what point does keeping this secret turn tragic?

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

5. “When I saw their hu see more

About the Author

Kathleen Grissom
Charles Grissom

Kathleen Grissom

Born and raised in Saskatchewan, Kathleen Grissom is now happily rooted in south-side Virginia, where she and her husband live in the plantation tavern they renovated. The Kitchen House is her first novel. You can visit her website at KathleenGrissom.com.

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