Book Review: Glory over Everything
Published by Simon & Schuster on April 5th 2016
Genres: Historical Fiction
FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley. All opinions are my own.
Synopsis from Goodreads: A novel of family and long-buried secrets along the treacherous Underground Railroad. 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 Oaks, 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 Oaks 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 Oaks 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.
With its heartbreaking and brutally honest depiction of how slaves were treated in the American South, Kathleen Grissom’s The Kitchen House stands out as one of the most memorable novels I’ve read in recent years. Because it had such a profound effect on me, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the sequel, Glory over Everything: Beyond the Kitchen House. Thanks so much to Netgalley, Simon & Schuster, and of course, Kathleen Grissom, for making it possible for me to obtain a copy prior to the novel’s April 5th release date.
So, how best to describe Glory over Everything? Think Nella Larsen’s Passing and Solomon Northup’s Twelve Years a Slave, with a smattering of Gone with the Wind thrown in for good measure. While The Kitchen House explores the horrors of slavery by showing how hard it is to live as a slave in the South, Glory over Everything tackles the same theme but from a different point of view, that of the free black or mixed race individual who has managed to escape from the South. Grissom exposes the ugly truth that until slavery was finally abolished in this country, freedom was merely an illusion if you had any ‘color’ in your blood. It could be stolen from you anywhere at any time, and so you lived life constantly looking over your shoulder.
The offspring of a white slave master and a slave, our protagonist James Pyke learns this lesson the hard way. When the novel opens, James has already escaped from slavery once, traveling via the Underground Railroad to freedom. He is now living in Philadelphia as “James Burton”. Because of his pale complexion, he has been able to ‘pass’ as a white man for a number of years now and is a respected businessman and artist in his community. Using a series of flashbacks, the first half of the novel returns us to when Jamie first arrives in Philadelphia and retraces the path he takes to become James Burton.
Two events transpire, however, that threaten to destroy this new life he has worked so hard for: 1) his lover Caroline becomes pregnant and 2) James’ servant, a young boy named Pan that James loves like a son, is kidnapped and shipped south to be sold into slavery. Although he is frightened to return to the South because of his own past, James promises Pan’s father, Henry, that he will find and return Pan home. Initially James is conflicted between his duty to Caroline and their unborn child and his oath to Henry. However, ultimately James is forced to flee Philadelphia when he is betrayed by someone who knows of his past and uses it against him. With nothing else left to lose at this point, James swallows his own fears and heads south to find Pan. The second half of the novel focuses on this potentially dangerous rescue mission.
I loved nearly everything about this novel, but here are some aspects of it that really stood out for me.
The suspense – While the first half of the novel moves along at a slow and steady pace as it traces James’ backstory and focuses on character development, the rest of the novel becomes very Mission Impossible. It’s so intense that I stayed up nearly all night long to finish it because I was so desperate to know how it ended. Every chapter is suspenseful and filled with potential dangers as James, first of all, must lie to everyone he encounters on his journey to create a plausible cover story that allows him to search for Pan. Then, once he locates him, he must come up with a feasible plan to free Pan and bring him home, all the while without revealing his own true identity, especially once he hears that his former slave master is not only still alive, but is still actively looking for him.
Pan – I know James is the protagonist in this novel and a wonderful character in his own right, but I guarantee that you will fall in love with Pan. Just as Mama Mae was the heart and soul of The Kitchen House, Pan is the heart and soul of this novel. He’s a precocious young boy with a heart as big as Texas, who instantly enchants everyone he meets. After Pan was taken, I waited anxiously to hear more of him and wished I could give James a kick in the pants to hurry him along on his journey to rescue him.
Underground Railroad – The chapters that deal with the Underground Railroad stand out as the novel’s most memorable moments. On the one hand, what an absolutely terrifying experience to have an escape route that passes through a swamp containing bears, wild cats, poisonous snakes, and who knows what other dangers. But on the other hand, it was heartwarming to see so many people along the way who were helping as many as they could escape to freedom.