Review: The Help

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Welcome back, bookies (my literary-inclined pals)!

Today I want to talk about another book that has been made into a movie. Have you heard of “The Help”? Let me provide you with the details.

Title: The Help

Author: Kathryn Stockett

Genre: Historical Novel

# of pages: 522

Now for those of you who have been under a rock (just kidding!), this book has been a big hit. As you have surely noticed, this is a historical novel. That’s not to say that it will sound like your high school history textbook. It’s a fictional story with a historical setting- the 1950’s when blacks were hated and discriminated against. So let’s look at the blurb, shall we?

Three ordinary women are about to take one extraordinary step….
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.

Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.

In pitch-perfect voices, Kathryn Stockett creates three extraordinary women whose determination to start a movement of their own forever changes a town, and the way women--mothers, daughters, caregivers, friends--view one another. A deeply moving novel filled with poignancy, humor, and hope,The Help is a timeless and universal story about the lines we abide by, and the ones we don't.

Have you ever read “To Kill a Mockingbird”? It’s a great book that I read in high school. It’s  a classic, pretty interesting, and talks about the same era. Well, in my opinion, “The Help” is so much better. I mean, let’s just start with the title. “The Help”; Such a nice, simple title that immediately tells you what the whole book is focused on. Now think about it. It’s not easy to do that in two words, but Kathryn Stockett was able to.

Moving on. The story itself is so well-paced. Usually, with historical novels, there are small parts where I get bored and that I read through without any interest in order to get to the interesting parts. Well, that’s not the case with this book. I did not want to put this book down. I was only able to do so when absolutely necessary. How did the author achieve this? She focused on the human aspect of the story. After all, we might live in different times, but emotions stay the same and so do a lot of personal relationships. We still care about family, friends, colleagues, etc. And we still feel anger, sadness, happiness, disappointment, surprise, joy, just like the generations before ours did. So by focusing on this, you get sucked into the story. It’s something you can relate to. Now, I’m not saying everyone will enjoy this. But I think most will. Especially if you are interested in topics like discrimination, racism, human rights, history, etc.

I love the character development here. You can actually see the growth of the character as she stops being so accepting of her situation and learns to adapt to new circumstances that are initially out of her comfort zone. I love how the story alternates between the 3 main characters, but it is very well-balanced. It doesn’t feel like just one character takes over. It feels like you’re getting to know all of them, one at a time. I also really liked how the story is told as if the character was having a conversation with you, explaining how things are.

It addresses a serious topic in a way that seems very natural. It doesn’t push one opinion or another. It just focuses on a “this is my life; let me introduce you to it” sort of storyline. For example, after having to deal with an unpleasant encounter with her fake-nice boss, Aibileen mentions,

“I put the iron down real slow, feel that bitter seed grow in my chest, the one planted after Treelore died. My face goes hot, my tongue twitchy. I don’t know what to say to her. All I know is, I ain’t saying it. And I know she ain’t saying what she want a say either and it’s a strange thing happening here cause nobody saying nothing and we still managing to have us a conversation.”

The author does such a great job with having the characters tell the story that I think few people would get offended. Those that do are probably looking for something to fight over.

You may have seen the movie. If you have, I have to say that the movie is remarkably close to the book. But somehow, the book seems to be even better. If you haven’t seen the movie, watch it first, then read the book. Save the best for last, like dessert. When you read the book, you get to know not only the reactions and emotions displayed on their faces but also what they are thinking and feeling on the inside. You get to enjoy more of their quirks, like Minny’s hilarious sassing when she is insisting her boss has to tell her husband that she wants to hire Minny as the help.

“And what’s Mister Johnny gone do if he come home and find a colored woman up in his kitchen?”

“I’m sorry, I just can’t-”

“I’ll tell you what he’s gone do, he’s gone get that pistol and shoot Minny dead right here on this no-wax floor.”

Miss Celia shakes her head. “I’m not telling him.”

“Then I got to go,” I say. Shit, I knew it. I knew she was crazy when I walked in the door-

“It’s not that I’d be fibbing to him. I just need a maid-”

“A course you need a maid. Last one done gone got shot in the head.”

high-five-self

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, I absolutely love this book and can’t say enough to express how much I enjoyed it. It’s thought-provoking, funny, sad, happy, exciting and basically, just goes through the whole range of human emotions. I give it a 5/5. Absolutely wonderful and totally worthwhile!

What about you, bookies? Did you enjoy it? Have you seen the movie? What differences did you notice between them? Say your piece below!

Review: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Howdy bookies (you book huggers)!

Have I ever mentioned I’m from Texas? Well, now you know. I spent most of my childhood elsewhere though, so my upbringing isn’t really “Texan”. Back to the main point!

I read a book from my new stash! (Yes, it’s a whole “stash”! does a happy dance) It’s called “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas”. Maybe you’ve heard of it? I was really excited when I found it at a thrift store. I had watched the movie based on it. It was very close to the book’s content, I think. But for now, let’s give you the basics:

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Title: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
Author: John Boyne
Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s Literature, Fable
# of pages: 216

I have been really interested in the Holocaust since the tender age of about 6 years old. I would hear about it, from adults. I would hear these experiences about how and why people were persecuted. But best of all, at least from my point of view, is that I would hear all of those things applied to me like: “Yeah. Some day that could happen to all of us.” Since I was one of the “us”, I took a personal interest in it. And I think that’s what really makes it seem real, what really helps you appreciate history. So when I found this book, I was pretty happy. I had watched the movie, which was ok. And of course the book is nearly always better.

So about the book itself, the blurb reads:

Berlin, 1942

When Bruno returns home from school one day, he discovers that his belongings are being packed in crates. His father has received a promotion and the family must move to a new house far, far away where there is no one to play with and nothing to do. A tall fence stretches as far as the eye can see and cuts him off from the strange people he can see in the distance.

But Bruno longs to be an explorer and decides taht there must be more to this desolate new place than meets the eye. While exploring his new environment, he meets another boy and their meeting results in a friendship that has devastation consequences.

This sounds great, right? But no. It was a disappointment. I guess, if it is children’s literature, it’s ok.  But it’s not great. I didn’t really get into the story. It is told from a third person point of view with knowledge of Bruno’s p.o.v. But you are being told the story. You are not really experiencing it. In a way, I guess it feels like a general description rather than a story. And Bruno never becomes someone you can really identify with. I mean, you get to know a little of how he thinks. He is a small child, spoiled, but he hates the “Fury” and has not been taught/brainwashed by societal values of Nazi Germany, despite the fact that his father is a very proud Nazi commandant. Bruno is selfish and thinks highly of himself, but you don’t quite hate him because he tries to do what he has been taught is right. However, sometimes, by applying the manners he has been taught, he ignores the bigger picture. I suppose, though, that it should be expected of a nine year old. For example, he makes friend with a Jewish boy in the concentration camp. Bruno notices how hungry he is and how he is getting skinnier and skinnier. He takes him food, whatever he can carry on a long walk.

“[…] but the walk from the house to the place in the fence where the two boys met was a long one and sometimes Bruno got hungry on the way and found that one bite of the cake would lead to another, and that in turn led to another, and by the time there was only one mouthful left he knew it would be wrong to give that to Shmuel because it would only tease his appetite and not satisfy it.”

Obviously, since Shmuel is starving, it would be better to give him that little mouthful, but Bruno doesn’t understand that. Nor does he understand who the “Fury” is, why he must say heil Hitler, why all the people on the other side of the fence get to wear pajamas all day and he doesn’t, and other things such as that. He isn’t really observant.

What I do like about this book is that it is that it accurately portrays the interests and some of the point of view of a little boy. Bruno doesn’t get along with his sister and tries to use words and phrases that he doesn’t really understand. He likes food and eats even when he’s not hungry. He likes to explore, but doesn’t really do much of it. It limits the information you get to what Bruno understands/experiences. However, the story is told with an adult “voice”.

” ‘He runs the country, idiot,’ said Gretel, showing off as sisters tend to do.”
“But still, there are moments when a brother and sister can lay down their instruments of torture for a moment and speak as civilized human beings and Bruno decided to make this one of those moments.”

Think about it. Does this really sound like the “voice” of a kid? No. And if a child (and most adolescents) were to read this book, he/she would become bored really easily, while and adults would probably become a bit frustrated with the overly simplified interests and limited knowledge Bruno has. My favorite part was probably the ending:

“Of course all this happened a long time ago and nothing like that could ever happen again. Not in this day and age.”

Because it is emphasizing the fact that it can happen again, that history is a lesson learn from.

So, it’s a book that sounds a lot better in theory than it does when you read it. I had high expectations, and this book failed them. I don’t think this book will really appeal to anyone. Therefore, I give this book 1/5 stars.

What about you bookies? How would you rate this book? Is the book or the movie better? In my opinion, neither one was great, but I think I enjoyed the movie slightly more than the book, making this one of the rare exceptions to the “the book is always better” rule. Which movies have you found that are better than the books?