April 05, 2016

Glory Over Everything - Kathleen Grissom

Simon & Schuster, April 5, 2016.


Four Stars


Glory Over Everything follows the journey of Jamie Pyke, a character from Grissom’s 2010 novel, The Kitchen House. Through flashbacks, we learn how Jamie left the ill-fated Tall Oakes plantation on which he was raised, and how he came to Philadelphia, where he is now living as a wealthy white aristocrat named James Burton. Jamie grew up believing that the white woman who raised him was his mother – after her death, he learns that she was actually his grandmother, and his real mother was in fact one of her black slaves. With all the prejudice learned from his grandmother, one of Jamie’s most difficult tasks is being able to accept himself.


Jamie was only a child when he arrived in Philadelphia, and he faced many challenges to survive in the city. He was fortunate to have two men take an interest in him as father-figures – one, a black man who sheltered him in the forest and encouraged him to pass as white; and the second, a white silversmith who took a chance on Jamie as his apprentice and eventual adopted son. Now, in 1830, James Burton has taken over the silversmith business and he is living a life of wealth and privilege. One day, Henry, the escaped slave who helped him to survive as a child, arrives at his doorstep in a panic – Henry’s son, Pan, has been abducted by slave traders, and he needs James’ help. However, if James goes after Pan, he will be risking everything, and his secret identity will likely be exposed.


There is a level of symmetry between the stories of young Jamie and Pan, as they struggle to survive as children in a dangerous world. When James learns that Pan is missing, he begins to remember his own journey away from the plantation and towards a new life. If he makes the choice to save Pan, he must make that trip in reverse – and he could lose everything, including his own freedom. James is a strong character, but he is also human, and wishes for self-preservation. It is only when his true background is exposed in other ways that he decides to risk it all for a child in whom he sees much of himself.


I didn’t always find James to be a likeable character, but again, that is what makes him realistic and human. In contrast, Pan’s precocious nature, Henry’s loyalty and Sukey’s strength all drew me into the novel. Although there are many plot twists, I felt like the story as a whole could have been stronger – it was perhaps missing some depth, or level of complexity, and everything was solved too neatly in the end. However, more importantly, this is the story of slavery and survival, and with that in mind, I think the novel is a success. Although sometimes painful to read, Glory Over Everything is a necessary story, and the novel is enhanced by its larger historical context.


At times, I also wished the novel was darker and grittier, but that is also my own preference in storytelling. In fact, I think Grissom does a fantastic job of taking a very dark period in American history, and finding the light, or the good in people. The title of the novel comes from a Harriet Tubman quote, and it embraces a sense of light cast over the darkness of slavery: “I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person now I was free. There was such a glory over everything. The sun came up like gold through the trees, and I felt like I was in heaven.”


I received this novel from Simon & Schuster in exchange for an honest review.

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