Tag Archives: Fiction

Review: The Help

The Help
By Kathryn Stockett
Penguin Group (USA)
February 2009
464pp

Here’s the blurb from the publisher:

Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.

Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.

Minny, Aibileen’s best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody’s business, but she can’t mind her tongue, so she’s lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town  to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.

The Short of It:

The Help is the kind of book that you make time for, no matter how busy your schedule.

The Rest of It:

I’ve seen The Help everywhere and although it’s gotten wonderful reviews, I held off on reading it. I don’t like to read books that are overly hyped. I’m usually disappointed by them. However, the hype hasn’t died down yet even after all these months,  so I figured I’d give it a shot. I’m glad I did. Let me just say, that if you’ve been on the fence about reading it, get yourself a copy, find a cozy place to sit and dig in. It’s good.

As many of you know, the book is a work of fiction but it almost seems auto-biographical in nature. Skeeter is a young woman living in Mississippi. Most women her age focus on marriage and standing, but Skeeter is different. She wants to be a writer and after receiving some encouragement from a publishing house, she decides to write a book. A book about the help, literally. She decides to write a book about the black women of Jackson. The women that make a living taking care of other people’s children, cleaning other people’s houses, and putting up with all sorts of drama.

There’s so much to love about this book. Aibileen’s love for Mae Mobley, her young charge, is written so tenderly that your heart just aches when Stockett mentions them. Raising and loving another woman’s child, knowing full well that she could grow-up to treat blacks the very same way her mother does. Well, that just takes the air right out of my lungs.

Then there’s Minny, Aibileen’s best friend. Head-strong and difficult but so full of life. When Minny walks into a room, you pay attention. She’s quick to judge and has a sharp tongue, but there’s a gentle, vulnerable side to her too. I loved the interaction between her and her boss, Miss Celia.

Oh, and when Miss Skeeter has her”aha” moment, you just want to give her a big hug. Putting everything on the line for what she believes in. She’s not perfect. She has flaws but so does everyone. That’s the point. We are not meant to be perfect.

My only complaint with this book is that towards the end, the pace seemed to drop quite a bit. I suppose it was just me wanting to get to the end to find out how it all turned out, but it did seem to slow down quite a bit at one point. This is a tiny quibble given that the rest of the book is so wonderful. I really enjoyed it and feel like kicking myself for waiting so long to read it. It will definitely make my fave list this year and I can certainly see why book groups across the nation have embraced it.

For those that have read it, what did you think of the dialect? Not what I expected but it worked for me.

Also, I came across this interview with Katie Couric. I was surprised to see that Stockett is so soft-spoken. I don’t know why, but I imagined her to be a lot more aggressive and vocal. I also think it’s interesting that the book groups they feature in this clip are all white.

Source: I won this book in a contest.

Review: Raven Stole the Moon

Raven Stole the Moon
By Garth Stein
HarperCollins Publishers
March 2010
464pp

Here’s the blurb from the publisher:

When Jenna Rosen abandons her comfortable Seattle life to visit Wrangell, Alaska, it’s a wrenching return to her past. The hometown of her Native American grandmother, Wrangell is located near the Thunder Bay Resort, where Jenna’s young son, Bobby, disappeared two years before. His body was never recovered, and Jenna is determined to lay to rest the aching mystery of his death. But whispers of ancient legends begin to suggest a frightening new possibility about Bobby’s fate, and Jenna must sift through the beliefs of her ancestors, the Tlingit, who still tell of powerful, menacing forces at work in the Alaskan wilderness. Armed with nothing but a mother’s protective instincts, Jenna’s quest for the truth behind her son’s disappearance is about to pull her into a terrifying and life-changing abyss.

The Short of It:

Raven Stole the Moon is almost like reading two novels, side by side. There’s the everyday, here and now part of it, and then there’s the other part that centers around mysterious Native American legends and shapeshifters. At times, it’s a wild ride.

The Rest of It:

Raven Stole the Moon is not a new book for Stein. In fact, it was first published back in 1998, but after his success with The Art of Racing in the Rain, his publisher decided to release this new edition of Raven Stole the Moon. However, when I first picked it up, I believed that this was a new book so I was a tad surprised when I came upon the afterward in the book and was told that it wasn’t.

I had mixed feelings over this book.

The first half of the book worked for me. Jenna and her husband, Robert, experience what I believe, has got to be the hardest thing to get through; the death of a child. Jenna is grief-stricken, lost and confused and looking for closure. Stein does an excellent job of communicating that feeling of loss to me. Plus, I liked her a lot. She is easily someone who I could be friends with. When she arrives in Wrangell, Alaska she is sort of like flotsam in the sea. She just sort of drifts between point A and point B. When she lands into the arms of Eddie, their attraction is obvious.

As we learn more about the circumstances of her son’s death, we are introduced to the Kushtakas. The legends of the Tlingit center around shapeshifters that are part man, part otter. These Kushtakas are soul-stealers. They change shape to lure you in. Once captured,  you spend the rest of eternity as one of them. So in essence, your soul is never at rest.

The introduction to this legend intrigued me, but by the end of the book, much of it seemed far-fetched. I felt as if the novel was pulling in two different directions. Part of it wanted to stick to the relationship aspect between Jenna, her husband, and Eddie. The other part wanted to focus on the ancient legends but the two never really came together for me. I think it would have been a more powerful read, had a bit more time been spent on the ending to blend the two together.

I will say this, this novel is quite different from anything I’ve ever read. If you enjoy reading about Native American legends and can appreciate the spiritual aspect of the novel, you will enjoy this book. Also, Stein has a way with characters. Their mannerisms, their likes and dislikes, the way they use language, all come together to form real flesh and blood.

If you’re like me and want to check out Stein’s earlier works, click here for details on how to win a copy for yourself.

Source: This ARC was provided by Terra Communications.