Friday, June 22, 2012

Review of “The Help”

“All I'm saying is, kindness don't have no boundaries.”
Aibileen and Minny are two of the many African-American maids working in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960s. Skeeter is a young white girl who wants to be a writer. When Skeeter hears that her friend wants to put in a separate toilet for her maid, she starts wondering how these maids feel about being treated this way. While it is extremely risky, the maids agree to tell Skeeter their story for a book that may be published. The problem is for Aibileen, Minny and the other maids – the consequences of their actions could be deadly.
I absolutely loved this book even though it took me so long to read it. Going through three main characters’ stories was time consuming but enjoyable just the same. I guess I didn’t want the book to end. There weren’t any dull parts or anything that wasn’t sincere about this book. The story was written in the best, most candid way a white female writer could have done. I appreciate Kathryn Stockett adding to the end of the book, her personal account, just as Skeeter did about Constantine. She addresses the criticism that comes from her writing from her perspective too:
What I am sure about it this: I don’t presume to think that I know what it really felt like to be a black woman in Mississippi, especially in the 1960s. I don’t think it is something any white woman on the other end of a black woman’s paycheck could ever truly understand. But trying to understand is vital to our humanity.
I think that is enough of an explanation to give the writer credit for trying to teach us something about our own human experience – and that is what makes for good literature. Reading for entertainment is fine but when you understand yourself and the world around you makes the experience that more impactful.
I’ve also heard someone say they hate narration written in dialogue, which makes me assume they don’t like many quality writers either. The big names such as Dickens, Twain, Hurston, and Faulkner write in dialect because it would be ineffective and unauthentic if they didn’t capture the voice of the characters. I’ve also heard that the book is funny which is true, in parts, but the overall tone of the book is so sad. But sad in a good way because you take something from that emotion – you feel for the characters, and, again, that’s what makes for a good book.
Anyway, I’ll have to watch the movie now and I did what I could to not think of the characters as the actresses I saw on the red carpet not long ago, but I assume the movie will be very good as well. Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 76% which doesn’t mean much to me anymore since they gave Prometheus a 73% when it’s the biggest sci-fi film of the decade. But for students in class being able to compare and contrast with a novel like To Kill A Mockingbird would be a good idea for high school literature classes. It would especially be nice to tie in their history lessons on the Civil Rights Movement as well.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Review of “Goddess Test,” “Iron King,” and “Switched”

I decided to review these three books together as they were the last YA books I read recently. They also all have very similar plots.

Carter, Aimee. The Goddess Test. Ontario, Harlequin Teen, 2011. ISBN: 9780373210268
Kate’s mother is dying and her last wish is to return to her hometown. While Kate struggles to adjust, she finds new challenges. After having a run-in with a classmate over a boyfriend, Kate is approached by a dark character named Henry. He convinces her that he will save her classmate, and prolong her mother’s life, if she lives with him six months out of the year – just as his last wife, Persephone did. In order for Kate to become Henry’s new wife, she must pass the tests of the gods and goddesses in the Underworld where she calls home in the winter.
I read this entire book because it was pretty quick and easy to read. It was interesting to have a book try and use mythology for its paranormal themes too. I can’t say I’d read the rest in the series, however. I couldn’t connect to the situation at all – aside from it being ridiculous, I didn’t feel anything from Kate other than the heartbreak of losing her mother. Henry was only described as dark and young-looking until half way through the book she says he has black hair. I wasn’t interested in their relationship at all and I really felt bad for Kate to be tricked by her mother and being Diana in the end. The poor girl went through the loss of her mother as a test? Plus, having everyone she encountered all members of the Underworld was a bit convenient as well.
In every review I’ve read, no one seems to recall any other characters’ names for some reason. I guess it was all the same thing – girl is the chosen one of some powerful guy and she is “forced” to wear pretty clothes and live in a beautiful palace. That was the theme in Breaking Dawn, The Princess Diaries and that’s the theme for all these books in this review. It’s getting old.

Kagawa, Julie. The Iron King. Ontario, Harlequin Teen, 2010. ISBN: 9780373210084
Meghan’s father disappeared when she was a child, and she’s always had a hard time at school because she’s a “hick” who lives on a farm. She has one friend, a boy who is very mischievous, and a little brother who one day turns feral.  Meghan had no idea that she was a part of a magical world of fairies and she is the daughter of the king. She must travel with her best friend who turns out to be the literary historical Puck from A Midsummer Night’s Dream and rescue her brother, and possibly her father.
I really liked this book at first because of the style and the normal day to day stuff then being transferred into a Narnia-type land was pretty cool. I loved her cat friend and I loved the action but half way through the action drove me crazy. There was always something going on to the point that I was exhausted. I didn’t finish the book because while I knew it would be interesting, I just couldn’t keep my attention up for that long to go through another fight or chase with some new creature that pops out of nowhere. By this time I was getting tired of Fairyland.
This book also had the same themes as the other two. Like The Goddess Test, there is the issue of having to wear pretty dresses and look fancy because the main female character is special. Like Switched, the family member is mysteriously gone and the evil mother doesn’t like the main character and they have to fight in the new, pretty palace that seems wonderful but it’s really terrible. Surely paranormal fiction can come up with something new soon.
Did Not Finish

Hocking, Amanda. Switched. New York, St. Martin’s, 2010. ISBN: 9781250006318
Wendy was always hated by her mother and when she was a child, her mother was institutionalized for trying to kill her. Now Wendy lives with her aunt and her brother but she still has a hard time fitting in at school. She has a power to make people do things if she thinks hard enough. Her friend, Finn, helps her escape when to goths try to attack her. She is forced to convince her brother that she is okay but that she needs to be away for a while. Finn takes her to find her real mother, a queen of the trolls who isn’t at all pleasant. Wendy has to keep her feelings for Finn at bay and try to adjust to not only being different but being the princess of this new world.
I was really excited to read Hocking’s work and I do think she’s  great writer. However, at this point of my three book stint, I was sick of the same plot lines. Not only does this also have the something happened when the heroine was a kid that hints to her being special, but it has the Princess Diaries plot line of having to live in this beautiful place with everything they get ever hope for, except it’s miserable. I didn’t mind the writing style or Wendy’s voice, it was just the troll thing that bothered me, especially since Wendy is short with crazy hair. I kept imagining a lawn gnome trying to put the moves on his fellow garden statue. I may go back to this book later but after reading three books in a row like this, I got tired of it.

Did Not Finish