Book Review: The Rib King by Ladee Hubbard

The Rib King  by Ladee Hubbard Genre:  Historial fiction Synopsis:   For fifteen years August Sitwell has worked for the Barclays, a w...

The Rib King by Ladee Hubbard

Genre: Historial fiction

For fifteen years August Sitwell has worked for the Barclays, a well-to-do white family who plucked him from an orphan asylum and gave him a job. The groundskeeper is part of the household’s all-black staff, along with “Miss Mamie,” the talented cook, pretty new maid Jennie Williams, and three young kitchen apprentices—the latest orphan boys Mr. Barclay has taken in to "civilize" boys like August.

But the Barclays fortunes have fallen, and their money is almost gone. When a prospective business associate proposes selling Miss Mamie’s delicious rib sauce to local markets under the brand name “The Rib King”—using a caricature of a wildly grinning August on the label—Mr. Barclay, desperate for cash, agrees. Yet neither Miss Mamie nor August will see a dime. Humiliated, August grows increasingly distraught, his anger building to a rage that explodes in shocking tragedy. Elegantly written and exhaustively researched, The Rib King is an unsparing examination of America’s fascination with black iconography and exploitation that redefines African American stereotypes in literature. In this powerful, disturbing, and timely novel, Ladee Hubbard reveals who people actually are, and most importantly, who and what they are not.

Content/Trigger Warnings: Racism, child abuse, violence, classism

Overall rating:  ★★★☆☆

Thinking back on The Rib King, I can say I liked it, but while reading it, I was incredibly torn. It’s one of those books that feels like required reading, and maybe that’s just my personal relationship and feelings towards historical fiction, but it all just seems so analytical and full of hidden purpose.

It’s an interesting concept for a book because I still don’t quite know who the actual protagonist is. The book starts out following Mr. Sitwell and then switches over to Jennie’s POV years later, so as a reader, you end up missing part of the story. You don’t necessarily know who to trust. I’m sure that’s an intentional plot device, but I’m never one to dig deep into the intricacies of literary analysis. Comparing the actual book to the book’s synopsis, I feel like the synopsis actually spells out something that the book doesn’t say outright, and that aligns with my thoughts on the book overall.

There’s so much between the lines to be read, it’s easy as pie to miss pieces from the larger puzzle of the plot. In fact, even at the end of the book, I was left confused and feeling like I missed an integral part of the ending. Like things jumped through space and time a bit, and I wasn’t totally sure what happened.

But other parts of the book were wonderfully engaging and easy to speed through because they were so interesting and in-depth. It was a really odd mixture of styles within the same story. It just made things confusing and underwhelming for me. I wanted to love the book and think I could’ve enjoyed it, but I was too often left too puzzled to really latch on to the thick of it.

*I received a copy of this book free in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are entirely my own.

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