“The author of the New York Times bestseller and beloved book club favorite The Kitchen House continues the story of Jamie Pyke, son of both a slave and master of Tall Oakes, whose deadly secret compels him to take a treacherous journey through the Underground Railroad.
Published in 2010, The Kitchen House became a grassroots bestseller. Fans connected so deeply to the book’s characters that the author, Kathleen Grissom, found herself being asked over and over ‘what happens next?’ The wait is finally over.
This new, stand-alone novel opens in 1830, and Jamie, who fled from the Virginian plantation he once called home, is passing in Philadelphia society as a wealthy white silversmith. After many years of striving, Jamie has achieved acclaim and security, only to discover that his aristocratic lover Caroline is pregnant. Before he can reveal his real identity to her, he learns that his beloved servant Pan has been captured and sold into slavery in the South. Pan’s father, to whom Jamie owes a great debt, pleads for Jamie’s help, and Jamie agrees, knowing the journey will take him perilously close to Tall Oakes and the ruthless slave hunter who is still searching for him. Meanwhile, Caroline’s father learns and exposes Jamie’s secret, and Jamie loses his home, his business, and finally Caroline.
Heartbroken and with nothing to lose, Jamie embarks on a trip to a North Carolina plantation where Pan is being held with a former Tall Oakes slave named Sukey, who is intent on getting Pan to the Underground Railroad. Soon the three of them are running through the Great Dismal Swamp, the notoriously deadly hiding place for escaped slaves. Though they have help from those in the Underground Railroad, not all of them will make it out alive.”
My Thoughts: One could argue that the plethora of novels that discuss slavery would make yet one more novel seem irrelevant. Yet, with Ms. Grissom’s novels, this sentiment is far from the truth. In fact, her themes are so universal and she explores the institution of slavery with such delicacy that they take on greater importance now more than ever. She excels at creating sympathetic and highly conflicted characters that move beyond caricatures but put names to the nameless and faces to the faceless. If anything, these novels provide an excellent reminder that even though slavery may no longer exist in the United States, it still exists around the world and that these victims face the same biases and harsh realities as those around which Ms. Grissom’s two novels revolve.
People will be happy to note that this is a stand-alone novel, and one need not have read The Kitchen House to understand it. There are references to Jamie’s childhood years and his flight from his childhood home, but Ms. Grissom covers all of the necessary backstory. That does not mean readers will not want to read The Kitchen House first. It is an excellent story in its own right and well-deserving of a second or even third reading. However, for those who may be worried about being able to pick up Jamie’s story in what is essentially the middle of it need not continue to do so.
In Jamie, Ms. Grissom gives us a character which will simultaneously raise one’s ire and one’s sympathy. His need to fit into white society, along with his ongoing repulsion about his mother and the black community at large, are difficult to stomach at times as he reflects the same hateful attitudes which he later faces in person. Actions speak louder than words, and some of Jamie’s actions are not the most promising. Yet, there is no doubt Jamie is a good person. He knows his attitudes are shameful, and he feels that shame. He is generous, kind, and caring. He has a large capacity for love and, more importantly, for forgiveness. His journey of self-discovery is uncomfortable and poignant as he comes to some hard truths about his past, his present, and his future.
As for Jamie’s physical journey, it is a thrilling one. The story starts out slowly, establishing Jamie’s position in Philadelphia, his relationships with his servants and with his beloved. However, what seems slow is really just the creation of that important relationship between main character and reader, so that once Jamie faces exposure of his deepest secret readers are firmly involved in the story and willing to overlook Jamie’s weaknesses. Once Jamie hits the Mason-Dixon line, the action is virtually nonstop and the resulting whirlwind is intense in its highs and lows.
What makes the story even better is that the narration shifts between Jamie, Sukey, and Pan. Each of their stories provides greater insight into the world in which they live as well as differing glimpses into slavery. Pan’s innocence and his lack of understanding of his surroundings remains one of the more upsetting sections if only because readers know the truth and are impotent to protect this vibrant and adorable little boy. Sukey’s story is plain ugly but necessary. In spite of everything she recalls and shares, she remains one of the more hopeful characters one will ever meet. Hers is a narrative that would drive other men to madness, but she maintains her dignity, loyalty, and love throughout the most horrific scenes. Sukey is the type of character we should all try to emulate.
In Glory over Everything, Ms. Grissom proves her writing mettle, for it is every bit as good, if not better, than her first book. There is something about Jamie’s struggle that hits close to home for all readers, regardless of color, and its scope is quite ambitious given the complexity of most of the themes. In fact though, Ms. Grissom is more than up to the task of tackling such themes with delicate forthrightness while creating a fantastic thriller at the same time. If fans loves The Kitchen House, they will adore Glory over Everything.