As promised, here is my full review of The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Loved this book!
Sneaky Kathryn Stockett: You made the chapters and the segments within the chapters just short enough that I'd read one and think, "Well, just one more won't hurt," and before I knew it, I was up an hour past my bedtime just so I could read "one more..." But seriously, I'm not complaining; when a book is this good, you are so wrapped up in the story that putting it down is a chore no matter what the time of day.
The Help is the story of the "colored" domestic help many southerners employed throughout the first 60+ years of the twentieth century, when everyone knew his or her place in the world, and made sure that everyone else remembered their own places as well. As Ms. Stockett points out, much of the help was indeed thought of as extended family, often raising the white children of the home and staying with one family for most of a lifetime. Still, even though the maids were an intricate, intimate part of a household, they knew where the invisible lines were drawn and they knew their very lives sometimes depended upon the whims of the people for whom they worked. Civil rights was only a glimmer of a thought in the early 1960s in Jackson, Mississippi, and Ms. Stockett captures the hope of the black people wanting to change their circumstances and the hysteria of the white people wanting things to continue in their segregated way forever. Out of this tug of war comes the idea for Skeeter Phelan, the main white character in the book: She will interview many of the black maids she knows and will write a book of their experiences, bringing to light the struggles the women face and the inequities of their situations.
The Help is told from three very distinct points of view. First there is Aibileen, a maid to one of the leading young socialites of Jackson. Aibileen has raised seventeen white children in her years as a maid, and she has seen enough heartache and discrimination that she agrees, at first unwillingly, to help Skeeter secretly with the book. Then there is Skeeter herself: fresh out of college but unsure what to do with her life, eager to write but afraid of failing her mother, hoping for love but uneasy with what's going on around her. Finally there is the invincible Minny, a maid who simply cannot keep her mouth shut and who finds herself tending to a social outcast while fending off her own demons at home. Once these three women unite, The Help becomes not just about oppression in the south, but also about tentative friendship and what you are willing to stand up for.
Ms. Stockett's got a gift for a turn of phrase, and The Help is delightfully filled with passages that I found myself reading and rereading for the sheer joy of seeing those words again on the pages. Complex and compelling, I found myself cheering these women on yet knowing they were all going to lose something for their courage in sharing their stories, even if they attempt to do so anonymously. Ms. Stockett writes each character distinctly and strongly, and she made me understand that when you peel back the layers, the complications are deeper and more likely to leave permanent scars. The voices of these characters are going to speak to me for a very long time to come; I can't recommend this one highly enough.
Sunday, April 19, 2009
Saturday, April 18, 2009
I'm not quite done with The Help by Kathryn Stockett, but sometimes you just know a book is good when phrases seem to leap out at you over and over as you read. I should have been writing more of them down as I read; I may have to skim back through to mark more of them because this book is simply brimming with phrases that somehow have grabbed me and forced me to sit up and take notice. One that I read today was "the summer spread out behind us like hot rolled tar"...how apt and what a terrific mental image! But my favorite has to be the following, found on page 245:
"I always thought insanity would be a dark, bitter feeling, but it's drenching and delicious if you really roll around in it."
My review should be up tomorrow...don't miss this one.
Saturday, April 11, 2009
The next time I am feeling sorry for myself, I vow to remember this book. What are my trivial (often self-made) problems compared to surviving the Holocaust by living in a bunker for 18 long months? What do I have to complain about when there is no one hunting me down simply because of my race and/or religion, and I have more than enough food at hand? I've never lost a younger sister at the hands of sadistic Nazis and been unable to properly mourn because doing so might bring death to the surviving Jews hidden with me. Truly, reading Clara's War by Clara Kramer has put my problems in perspective and has given me keen insight into the experiences of a young woman forced to live underground in constant fear.
Told by Clara Kramer, the book is based on her life in Poland as a teenaged girl forced to survive the extermination of Jews by living in a bunker under the home of the Beck family. Clara documented (at her mother's insistence) the horror by writing in a diary as the eighteen people crowded together in the most primitive of conditions endured incredible heat and cold, constant hunger, and the terror of Nazi soldiers who moved in just above them. Though Clara was glad to be alive, she knew that her survival came at great expense to the family who lived above, and her constant theme throughout the book was that the Becks put themselves in danger repeatedly for people they hadn't really known very well before they volunteered to hide them. Clara also described the utter desolation she and her parents felt when her younger sister Mania, in an hysterical fit brought on by a fire in the house above, escaped the bunker and fled to the local nunnery, only to be turned in by former schoolmates and ultimately shot. Through the pages of her diary (now in the National Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.), Clara reconstructs an unbelievable and horrifying time in history from her often numb, and sometimes desperate, point of view.
Any time I read any book based on the Holocaust, I am amazed at this carnage allowed to happen and the loss of so many lives at the hands of the Nazi regime. That Clara and her family were among only 50 survivors of their Jewish town's population of 5000 is a testament to the goodness of the Becks and the determination of the Jewish families hidden inside a tiny bunker. This book rips your soul apart as you read of death and loss, and yet there is a triumph in the end that Clara and her parents somehow survived. This is a well-written story that brings to life a time many would like to forget occurred. Don't let that happen; pick up this book and let your own perspective on life be changed.
Sunday, April 05, 2009
I'm feeling pretty good about my reading lately...it seems I've picked up several good books in a row, and Stargazer by Claudia Gray is another winner. Her first book, Evernight, threw me a good surprise about midway, and Stargazer manages to do that as well--in fact, it does it more than once! I'm going to be sitting here waiting on pins and needles waiting for the next in the series. Below I am pasting my Amazon review...if you like vampire novels at all, go pick this one up ASAP.
Stargazer, Book Two in the Evernight series, picks up with the beginning of Bianca's second year at Evernight Academy. With her own vampiric senses awakening and her group of friends nearby, Bianca would feel much more at home if only her boyfriend Lucas could have remained with her. But Lucas has fled Evernight to return to the Black Cross vampire fighters; though he knows Bianca herself is a vampire, he still feels loyalty to the group he's been with all his life. So how will the two star-crossed lovers find a way to be together? Enter Balthazar, Bianca's vampire friend, who poses as her boyfriend so that her parents and everyone else are fooled into believing Lucas has been left in her past after last year's disastrous ending of term.
Bianca's story takes many twists and turns throughout Stargazer, and Gray's addition of wraiths following Bianca for unknown reasons brings more drama into the young vampire's life. Bianca must rely on Balthazar in more ways than she'd imagined, but he's got worries of his own: his sister Charity is back in the area, and after 35 years, he feels the need to connect with her. But Charity isn't going to be a docile vampire, and her presence signals danger not just for the humans, but for Lucas's Black Cross group and other vampires as well.
For the second time, Ms. Gray managed to throw me a curveball I hadn't expected at all as I read, and I'm just as delighted this time. In fact, there was more than one unexpected twist in Stargazer; I simply could not put the book down as each layer was revealed. While I understand the attraction between Bianca and Lucas, I have to admit I was rooting for Balthazar and his strong, sweet presence. The tension between the characters felt real and kept the story moving along quickly; sometimes it is not easy to tell who is the good guy and who isn't. Bianca's reactions are understandable and yet sometimes infuriating as well. I had thought the climatic fire scene was going to be the highpoint of the story and then along comes the final two pages which left me on a cliffhanger of epic proportions. I cannot wait to find out what will happen next, and that's truly the best part of Ms. Gray's writing: it leaves you wanting more!