Category Archives: Historical Fiction

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

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215px-Help_poster

Since so many people have reviewed the book, I can’t really add many comments to it other than my opinion.  I found the characters to be quite believable for the time period—1960s Jackson, Mississippi, right during the middle of the Civil Rights Movement.  The dialogue seemed authentic, which added to the validity of the novel.

I couldn’t help but be completely engrossed in the plot.  Like many others, I was hooked right at the first page when Aibileen, one of the black maids in the book, is talking about raising white babies.  I found myself getting angry at some points, and cheering in others.

What I really enjoyed about the book was seeing the tension between the black maids and their white employers.  The black maids had been raised to serve the nice southern white women dutifully (and without complaint), but we still saw the dissent of the help throughout the whole book, particularly after extreme events such as the outside bathroom.  This eventually led to creating Help with Skeeter.

One of my favorite characters from the book was Hilly, not because I liked her, but because I found her to be fascinating.  She was so determined to be a socialite that she didn’t even see how she was acting to her own daughter and the black maids.  Racism was so ingrained in her that she forgot everything else.  Quite fascinating.

I also found the interactions between Skeeter and her mother intriguing.  Skeeter isn’t interested in getting married, and of course her mother disapproves of that.  She goes so far as to call Skeeter a lesbian.  That’s quite different from today’s age where it can be acceptable in society for women not to get married, or getting married at an older age.  Again, that reflects the time period.

Of course I have to give the book five stars because it was so compelling.  Yes, it was worth the hype.  Yes, you should read it as fast as possible.  You won’t regret it.

My mom read this book with me.  Here’s a link to her review.

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The Bell Jar

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While reading the first half of The Bell Jar, I couldn’t help but draw connections between Sophie’s feelings and the dilemma facing many college students today.  In The Bell Jar, Sophie is almost out of college.  She is an English major living the high life with other students, but she is not quite comfortable with her situation.  She feels that the road she is on is ending, and that she doesn’t have a viable option for where to go in life.  She didn’t get into an advanced writing course, and she doesn’t want to marry her childhood sweetheart.  She is imagining a fig tree where she has many possibilities in life, but she doesn’t know which path to take.  As she spends more and more time considering her options, she feels the figs of the fig tree falling, and fewer and fewer options in her life.

Today, many students are running the race of college scholarships, high GPA, volunteerism, etc…, only to find out that the race they are winning at is now ending.  They are graduating from college with high scholastic merit, only to find out that they now need to run the race of life, and that their prospects in that race are grim.  Many students who graduate from college cannot find a job out of college, or that job isn’t what they were expecting and they don’t earn enough to pay off their college debt (which can total in the 30-40,000 range for undergraduate students.  Graduate students are, of course, more).  They feel like they are facing the fig tree of the novel, where they see so many possibilities in front of them.  They may get married, move to another state (or even another country), go on for more education to *hopefully* better their chances of career achievement, or get a job that they are totally overqualified for and really don’t want.  Many college students feel the sense that there is a ceiling over their heads, or that they feel squeezed from pressure.  In other words, they feel that they are in the bell jar.

With that context, I can completely understand the depression this young woman feels, even though this book was written in the 1960s.  It was written forty years ago, yet it can still be applied to the condition of college students today.  That is why it is a modern classic.  It transcends the time that it was written and is applicable to the world of today.  I would not expect every college student to go further down this path, but that is her story.

Because of her mental state, Sophie feels trapped in major depressive disorder.  She thinks about the many ways she can kill herself, and eventually ends up in asylums.  One of the more notable (and disgusting) moments is her stirring a raw egg into raw hamburger and eating it.  In this way, the book serves as a case study in abnormal psychology.  We see a young woman who feels trapped in the life she is living, and her tragic venture into the depths of the human psyche.  We see glimpses of how psychiatric patients were treated during the 1960s, including severe shock therapy.

Sophie is eventually let out of the asylum because her doctors feel that she is ready to go out into the world again.  She feels as though she was reborn from the experience.  Is she mentally able to face the world?  Will she find her new path in life?  We do not get the answer to this question in the book because it doesn’t show what happens to her later.

The Bell Jar is a fascinating case study of depression and mental disorders.  I would highly recommend this book to anyone interesting in learning how a person at the height of their college career can end up in a mental asylum.

This book easily deserves five stars.

For another review from Jill’s Cabana Stories, click here.

The Storyteller

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The Storyteller Book Cover

The Storyteller Book Cover

I was really looking forward to reading Jodi Picoult’s The Storyteller.  I am a big fan of her work, particularly House Rules.  Being that this was about the Holocaust, I was really anxious to read it.

I should say to begin with that I’m not very good at keeping up with multiple plots in the story.  I’m talking about more than three or four.  This book had so many plots to it that I got kind of lost in the book.  I had a hard time transitioning between them.  For me, the overall plot of the book got lost between all the mini plots.  I’ve read other reviews of this book and found that many loved it, so it must be me.  Perhaps if I read the book again, I’ll get the plots better.

Having said that, part of the book was gut wrenching with stories of the Holocaust.  The Holocaust is always fascinating to study, but it can be very easy to start crying because of the hardship that people suffered in it.  Of course, this was no different in The Storyteller.  I found myself crying in this book.  At those points, I was totally into the story.  In those moments, Jodi Picoult’s writing style shined through.  She made me cry, just like she did in parts of House Rules.

The book also raised the philosophical question, “Should you forgive an old man who was a Nazi, and who killed people in the Holocaust, but asks for forgiveness?”  As for that, I really cannot say myself.  Part of me believes that all human beings should be forgiven, and another part thinks that some crimes are so horrific, that they cannot be forgiven.  I hope that I never have to face that kind of question in my life, because I don’t know how I would answer.

Overall, I did get lost at points in the book, but I also enjoyed other parts.  The book raised some serious questions for me, which always makes me love a book.  I like it when I’m thinking about a book after I put it down (or returned it to the library).

Based on that, I struggle with how many stars to give it.  Part of me wants to give it lower scores, because I did get lost in quite a few parts of it from the multiple storylines.  Another part of me wants to give it five stars because it was so heart wrenching and it really made you question whether the person should be forgiven.  I will have to settle with giving it three stars.  I love the book, and I disliked the book, all at the same time.  I hope the next book by Jodi Picoult isn’t so difficult to rate.

Perhaps if I read it again, I’ll understand all the plots.  If so, I’ll update the review to hopefully give it five stars.  At this point, it’s at three.