Category Archives: Books

Book recommendation: The Help

Like Skeeter, a main character in The Help, author Kathryn Stockett has uncanny timing.

In 1963 in Mississippi, Miss Skeeter is a journalism graduate and social oddity — the only member of the Junior League NOT to pursue an MRS degree. She is also the only one of her society sisters to notice there is something not quite right about the treatment of the “help” in their households, and about the unseen lines between races and classes that everybody assumes are real.

This dawns on Miss Skeeter on the eve of the Civil Rights movement.

Kathryn Stockett publishes her first novel, The Help, at the current point of the Civil Rights arc — within a month of the inauguration of the nation’s first racially integrated president.

Perhaps I should temper my gushing, but I really, really loved this book. There are three distinct voices from three well-developed characters:

  • Aibileen, a maid who has lost her own child and who has raised 17 white children. Her special gift, she knows, is to teach those little babies to receive and give love, and to help them feel important and worthwhile, even if their own mothers don’t take the time to cherish them. And
  • Minny, whose cooking skills are matched only by her sass. Said sass gets her in trouble family after family after family. Until she begins to work for Miss Celia who, maddeningly and clumsily, doesn’t adhere to the protocol of racial and class lines.
  • Skeeter, who returns from college to find that her beloved Constantine, the maid who raised her, has mysteriously up and left.

Despite the stifling social codes that separate them, these women join to tell their stories, risking all to make a subtle change in awareness of imaginary lines. Along the way, there are funny moments, heartbreaking instances, and a little terror. I actually cried on page 389 (my advance copy may be different from the one you read).

The change begins with mean girl Miss Hilly and her ideas about toilets. And there’s a load of crap that shows up from time to time.

This is the kind of book that you think about through the day, that you read way past bedtime, that you neglect your other duties for.

The Help just came out this week. Through MotherTalk, I received a complimentary copy . Normally I would give away my proof copy, but this is a book I will want to read with Tessa (and Reed) some day.

So you’ll have to get your own. The Help is most definitely nightstand-worthy.

(originally appeared on All Thumbs Reviews.)

Somebody Else's Daughter

(originally posted on All Thumbs Reviews.)

The first thing I did when I received an advance copy of Somebody Else’s Daughter from the author, Elizabeth Brundage, was to check the back cover.

Wally Lamb, author of She’s Come Undone (one of my favorite books) has this to say:

“Students, parents, teachers, townies: Somebody Else’s Daughter is a deft balancing act of taut plot and richly drawn characters struggling to find their moral centers as they grope in the dark for the transformative power of love. I didn’t so much read this novel as devour it. Brundage is a storyteller supreme.”


So my expectations were high.

And they were met. Mostly.

There’s something in this book for everyone. There’s feminism and p.0r.n, classism and addiction, AIDS and abuse, religion and affairs, prostitution and predation, adoption loss and adoption gain (the author herself is a happily adopted person, her words).

And there are characters galore:

  • Nate and Cat and the infant daughter they can’t raise, Willa.
  • Joe and Candace who become Willa’s parents, and who carry a deep secret.
  • Claire, the sculptor, and her son Teddy, who struggles in school and is dating Willa.
  • Jack, the headmaster of the exclusive school in the Berkshires, and his dutiful wife, Maggie.
  • Ada and Pearl, teen girls from different worlds.

The story starts as several unconnected threads. Through character development and story-weaving, Brundage brings together these threads for some interesting juxtapositions, such as the feminist and the p.0r.n producer, the girl who was adopted (and who thus has 4 parents) and the girl who has no parents, and the biological father and the adoptive father. It’s like the day in science class when you experiment with magnets and watch the opposites’ inevitable pull.

I found the first part of the book to be a tad slow. But once I got into the characters and could feel the threads interweaving, I was hooked. So much so that I put off finishing the book because I wasn’t ready for it to end yet (but I was on deadline!).

And then the ending was just a bit too tidy for my taste. There was a lot of suspense building up to the climactic scene, but the denouement cleared up too easily and quickly, off-pace with the slower beginning.

Nevertheless, I recommend this book for its storytelling, characters and plot. A bonus for me was a peek into the mind of an adopted teenage girl.

Which chilled me to the bone. (The “teen” part, not the “adopted” part).

**disclaimer**
I received a free book for purposes of providing an honest review.

For more on this novel, check out the rest of the tour, organized by the fabulous Trish of TLC Book Tours.:

Monday, November 3rd: It’s All Fun & Games
Wednesday, November 5th: S. Krishna’s Books
Friday, November 7th: Mabel’s House
Wednesday, November 12th: Devourer of Books
Thursday, November 13th: All Thumbs Reviews
Friday, November 14th: Welcome to My Brain
Monday, November 17th: 1 More Chapter
Wednesday, November 19th: My New Reality
Friday, November 21st: Bloggin’ ‘Bout Books
Tuesday, November 25th: The Friendly Book Nook
Monday, December 1st: The 3 R’s: Reading, ‘Riting, and Randomness
Tuesday, December 2nd: Bookroom Reviews
Thursday, December 4th: Pieces of Me

For my friends who wait

There is a lot of waiting and anxiety in our community right now. Today I have what I hope is a calming passage, a way to rise above the daily disquiet and see that there IS a big picture that is being composed moment by moment.

 From Chapter One – A Mystical Path to Motherhood

Enter a little puff of smoke.

As the sun finally set on the summer solstice that year, we stood before the snapping pine in the fire pit, about to enter the sweat lodge again — only this time with no demands for a solution. An energetic healer had told us to make the list, burn it and have faith. On that paper was written our wishes for a child:

1) a spiritually advanced soul
2) a soul with something to teach us
3) a soul we have something to teach
4) a soul with enough flexibility to enjoy and benefit from our lifestyle
and one last wish for all three of us:
5) the financial needs for this family to be met

Letting go of the physical need to have biological children sent a swift pulse of liberation through my body so suddenly that my eyes twitched. Watching those wishes go up in smoke, everything at last made perfect sense. I’d always felt destined for a more mystical path to motherhood.

George looked at me and whispered, “Did you feel that?” I had: a slight pulling sensation from the smoke floating away.

“You know,” I whispered back, “I’ve been thinking about adoption my entire life.” George closed his eyes and inhaled a deeper breath than he’d taken in months. His sigh captured the unspoken truth that stood between us — his desperate guilt and my hidden disappointment — and released it into the fire. We were moving on.

Every test to gain permission from local, state and federal authorities to adopt a child was as anxiety-ridden as a prenatal exam. Yet there was no due date to plan the rest of our lives around. We were strapped to an emotional roller coaster: filling out forms; waiting; more forms; more waiting; being judged on paper as to whether we were fit to parent. The waiting required absolute submission to the divine, for adoption is a manifestation of the soul, a birth of the heart. You consciously will a child into your life, and there is magic in it.

Mysteriously, that little puff of smoke found its way from the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming all the way to Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

— Kari Grady Grossman, Bones That Float

Since I’ve excerpted the excerpt, you can read more here.

Sending you wisps of peace. You know who you are.

***

Tomorrow’s the last day for limerick entries. Voting begins soon so get rhyming!

About Face

I’m reading Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, which chronicles the period after the sudden death of the author’s husband’s and the concurrent illness of her adult daughter.

On the back cover is an intriguing photo, one with such interesting composition and mystery that I’ve found myself staring into it on occasion. It was taken in Malibu in 1976. I play the guessing game with myself.

I think on their names. John Dunne and Joan Didion — Irish, perhaps? Quintana Roo, their daughter. Must have a connection to Mexico — hopefully it will be explained in the book. She looks to be about my age that year.

I study their faces. Yup, Quintana looks like the perfect combination of John’s facial structure and Joan’s self-assured sassy. She looks as though she’d like the photographer to leave already, and let her get back to the conversation she was having with her parents.

face watcher

I read for several nights. I find out, as part of a casual mention, that Quintana was adopted. On page 118: “…John and I had brought Quintana home from St John’s Hospital. She was three days old.” Not much of a clue until two pages later: “We took Quintana there on the day of her adoption, when she was not quite seven months old.” (No other mention so far, so I am still guessing at the story and filling in with what I can intuit.)

I study the photo again with this new information. I look at the faces to re-verify their connections.

I do this face-study thing often, and I wonder if I do it more often than others. I look for genetic clues in faces to see if families are biological or adoptive. I look for similarities in chins, matching mouths, equal smiles, companion expressions, between children and parents and among children.

I wonder if, on this playground or at that school function, there are other families like us — connected by biography rather than biology.

Do you? Study faces?