Cover Image: The Rib King

The Rib King

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Member Reviews

Set in the early 20th Century, The Rib King follows the lives of two Black people, August Sitwell and Jennie Williams, who meet while working for the Barclays.

The first half of the novel focuses on August Sitwell.  He's been working for the Barclays since he was a young boy.  Now he's the groundkeeper for their property and also looking over three new boys who've come into employment in their home.  The Barclays are looking at losing their fortune but they are hoping that one last grab for a business will help keep them afloat.  As the question of ownership of an amazing sauce comes into play, Sitwell makes the decision to try and save the Barclays and those who work for them.

The second half of the novel focuses on Jennie a decade after what happened at the Barclays.  She now owns her own hair salon and is trying to market a beauty cream she invented.  When she hear Sitwell is back in town in brings back a lot of feelings regarding what happened a decade ago.  She isn't the only one who's haunted by those actions a decade ago and more will seek out Sitwell and will use Jennie to do so.

The Rib King is a beautifully written piece of literary fiction.  Ladee Hubbard redefined the stereotypes of Black characters of this time period while also integrating racism and the exploitation of Black lives and images of them for the profit of white businessmen.  The characters felt fresh and were well rounded.  Even when they do something questionable you are still rotting for them to succeed.  If this is any indication of how 2021 reading will go for me I'm all in.  

Thank you to Netgalley and Amistad for a e-copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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This hard to summarize because a LOT happens, and the events that seem key at the beginning end up being completely different. The first part is told from Mr. Sitwell's perspective, the Black groundskeeper for a white family in the early 1900s who is struggling to afford their status, as the family receives a business proposal that will impact several of the family's staff. The second half is set 10 years later and told by Jennie, who had been a maid for the family and is now an entrepreneur and trying to succeed as a Black woman when society has different expectations. 

The synopsis just doesn't do this book justice. It was a wonderful read, and the themes of exploitation and vengeance were done so well, while also touching on racism, classism, misogyny, and xenophobia. I really enjoyed the writing, and was immediately hooked. The characters are complex and well-developed. Jennie was such a great character to root for, and even the minor characters were colorful. It's hard to comment on Mr. Sitwell without giving anything away, but he was definitely complex! 

My only issue was the ending completely confused me. There were a lot of characters with different motivations, and it was hard to sort out who wanted what (especially when what they said didn't always reflect what they meant) and how everything came to pass. 

I would still strongly recommend this book, and thoroughly enjoyed it all the way through.
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Set in the early 1900’s, for the past fifteen years August Sitwell has worked as a groundkeeper for the Barclays – a upper-class white family who is going broke. Like the teenage Black boys the Barclays employ, Sitwell was also plucked as a boy from an asylum. When the Barclays are presented with an opportunity to sell their servant’s rib sauce under the name of “Rib King” featuring a caricature of August on the jar, a desperate Mr. Barclay agrees. There are too many layers of this novel to summarize here, but suffice it to say, it was an exhilarating ride through history, weaving threads of the disenfranchisement of and racism towards the lower classes and their exploitation though the years as the story moves forward in time. The point of view shifts halfway through, which offers a fresh new perspective of the story. This is definitely one of the most original and compelling novels I have read in a long time. This is a book that explores class, race and turns a mirror to our country’s ugly roots that still cling. I highly recommend this book. Thank you to Amistad and to NetGalley for the advanced review copy of this book.
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The Rib King is a riveting work of literary historical fiction centering around black employees in a white household struggling to maintain their affluent lifestyle. The characters in this book are so complex and fascinating- they are ones that will stay with you long after finishing the book. 

The author has seamlessly woven the history of the time and commentary on a number of social issues such as race and class disparities into a fascinating narrative. Despite the story being set 100 years ago, the issues raised are still relevant today, making this an especially important read. 

Many thanks to Amistad and NetGalley for the advance copy.
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This was a very interesting and unique book that wasn’t what I expected but I did enjoy it.  The first half of the book was told from Mr. Sitwell’s perspective, the Barclay’s groundskeeper who has worked for them since he was a young orphan they took in to work the kitchen.  The second half is told from Jennie’s perspective a young mother who was a maid isn’t he Barclay’s home.  This book was largely about race and the injustices that have occurred in our country as well as the underlying tension between races that has existed for years.  It was sad for me to read about a ground of African American people wanting to protest a black man being shot in the middle of the street because how have we not gone anywhere or gone past killing black men on the streets?  This was the kind of book that makes you think and it is uncomfortable to read at times but I think we do our best growing when we’re uncomfortable.  The character of Sitwell who later became the Rib King wasn’t likeable but the reader was able to see how he became who exactly he is.
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I was initially interested in The Rib King because it was compared to the movie Parasite. While both works focus on the indignities of the class system, and the bitter feelings the system can evoke in those at the bottom of the pile, that is where the similarities end. The Rib King by Ladee Hubbard is a twisting, exciting, revealing novel, focusing on the individual characters, rather than wider struggles.

This novel took me on such a journey, it's difficult to remember how the whole thing starts! The novel focuses on the staff on the Barclay house: Mr. Sitwell, the groundskeeper, Mamie, the cook, and Jennie, a new employee, and former dancer. Mr. Barclay has developed a gambling habit, and as a result, his luck, and money, are running out. When someone makes Barclay an offer that will save his falling empire, but will unfairly exploit his staff, Barclay follows the money. The rest of the novel follows the unexpected fallout of this decision. 

My attempt at a synopsis does not even begin to convey the depth of this book. There are paragraphs that could easily be expanded to a whole other novel. I knew very little about The Rib King before I started reading, and didn't even understand the significance of the title until about halfway through the book. I had no idea where it was going, but I felt so invested in the journey.  There is a lot going on in this book, but the characters are so vibrant, and the world is so well-established, that it never becomes overly complex. 

I loved this book. I loved the characters, the story was so unbelievably compelling, and the writing was clear and confident. This is Ladee Hubbard's second novel, and I don't know how I managed to miss her debut. I'll be remedying that very soon.
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Where do I start with The Rib King by Ladee Hubbard? I guess I will start by saying that I enjoyed some aspects of the story and not so much others. I enjoyed Part One which follows August Sitwell and takes place in and around the Barklay's place, I would have enjoyed the book much more if that were the main setting throughout; unfortunately, Part Two leaves the Barclay's and throws Sitwell into a background role and although the reasons of this "exile" enhance the overall story, I can't help but wonder what his story looked like in Part Two. The overall feel of the story didn't resonate all that much with me, it presents very real, important, and current civil issues as well as the age old battle of violent vs non-violent approaches to solving those issues but it was presented in a very slow burn fashion that I found myself (only at times throughout the story) less than enthused to keep reading. I much appreciated the writing style and its similitude of early 1900 era literature (the era, in which, this story takes place.) Overall, this was one of those stories that I liked and didn't like at the same time but I am happy to have read it

[Thank you NetGalley, the author, and the publisher for the free eARC]
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Even though I don't usually read historical fiction, this one felt urgent, timely, emotional and raw, One of my favorites on the year.

The Rib King pulled me immediately with its descriptive prose and a setting that comes alive throughout its pages. It takes place in the early 20th century and follows the staff at the Barclays household. Amongst them we meet August, a Black man who was "saved" from the orphanage by the Barclays, a wealthy white family, to work for them. Fifteen years later, August is working among a a group of servants in the house, except now the Barclays are no longer as well-to-do. So when Mr Barclay receives an offer on the rights to commercialize a delicious rib sauce made by their in-house cook, Miss Mamie, with August's face on the product, it's a deal. Except no one but Mr. Barclay receives any money from it.

This book tackles a number of important and uncomfortable issues: race, class, sexism, privilege, xenophobia, and violence. Thanks to the author's skillful writing, I could feel the injustice, the rage, the numbness of the mere existence. There are so many things in this novel that I would love to analyze in a classroom, or perhaps in a book club. It's just so powerful in many ways. 

Since I simultaneously read the ebook and listened to the audiobook version (my favorite way of reading lately), I have to confirm that the narration is as excellent as the book itself. 

*Thank you to the Publisher for a free advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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The Talented Ribkins is the story of family members with unusual abilities. It's older members pass on the family lore about a special sauce representing a fortune and legacy stolen by White businessmen. The Rib King is the real story behind the fable. It's also a story about how Black inventors and entrepreneurs and their contributions get erased and how Black history gets rewritten to serve White supremacy. Throughout the novel, Ladee Hubbard shares with readers what Black Americans had to do to get and keep employment in homes of wealthy white families and the challenges they face to create and sustain their businesses and communities.

In the Barclay house, a man named Sitwell is the groundskeeper. He arrived as an orphan. As the story opens, the Barclays have three new orphan boys staying in the house to learn a trade from Mamie, the newly appointed cook. Mr. Sitwell looks out for the boys, especially after Mr. Barclay asks him to choose one of the young men to leave due to financial mismanagement. As Mr. Barclay tries to revive his fortunes, he hosts Mr. Pound, a health enthusiast poised to purchase a food manufacturing plant from Mr. Barclay. With Mamie and using his supernatural ability of smell, Mr. Sitwell concocts a sauce to serve at a dinner for Mr. Pound, a sauce Mr. Pound is determined to make his own. Mr. Sitwell, however, is not who he seems. When his past collides with his present situation, the plot takes a surprising turn.

The Rib King is an engaging story, and it's well-paced to keep readers' attention. The characters are memorable and engaging, especially Jennie, a young woman determined to make a better life for herself, first in service and then as a businesswoman. Caught up in Mr. Sitwell's schemes through no fault of her own, readers will cheer for Jennie, her employees, and her daughter, Cutie Pie, as Jennie forges her path and champions members of the community others turn away. 

Some readers may fault the book for what feels like an abrupt ending. However, after reflecting on the last paragraph, readers may come to understand there is not more to be said.
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I loved how complicated each character was, even those on the periphery. The plot was twisty and propulsive. Hubbard cuts to the core of the difficulty and frustration of Black people trying to make it in the early 1900s caught between racism and respectability politics. I'd recommend this for fans of books like The Good Lord Bird.
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The Rib King follows a group of Mr. Barclay's house servants during the Progressive Era. Mr. Sitwell once banished to the work of the groundskeeper finds himself not only coming to the aid of three young boys employed by Mr. Barclay but at the butler of the house as well. He is present for many of the discussions and business negotiations that Mr. Barclay attempts to make for the lease of one of his factories. The narrative then shifts to that of the maid, Ms. Jennie Williams. Jennie has faced many hardships but works hard to give her daughter, Cutie Pie, everything she never had.
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I’m not really sure how to describe my thoughts on this book. I read it in a single day, and the plot held my attention. The characters were flawed, so I loved them and didn’t like them at the same time (I liked that). And the themes were sadly fully relevant to what black Americans still face today. Overall, I thought it was a really good book.
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