Friday, March 26, 2010

The Girl Who Chased the Moon

The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen
I love Sarah Addison Allen. I fell in love with her style of writing with her very first book, Garden Spells. Her whimsical magical style carried through into The Sugar Queen. I waited and waited and waited for The Girl Who Chased the Moon to be published with great anticipation.

I enjoyed TGWCTM, but not with the same enthusiasm I read my way through her first two books. Some of the magical was just right. Some was too much. The town she created was delightful, I'd visit in a heartbeat. But the townspeople were not well developed. The personalities did not grow to overcome their oddness. In this respect I felt let down. I felt the author pushed too hard in one direction, just right in another, and not enough in a third.

The story is about a young girl, Emily, who comes to this town to live with a grandfather she never knew she had. He is a giant of a man. He's either shy or reclusive, I am not sure which, although he does go out for breakfast every day. The awkwardness between him and his newly found granddaughter plays out just a little too well, as I never felt comfortable with the character myself.

Emily soon discovers that the townspeople hated her mother. Their hate was based on her youth as a selfish and cruel young girl. They believed her actions led to the suicide of a young man from one of the town's finest families. However, the mother Emily knew was involved in every cause possible to make the world a better place. The two personalities of one woman did not mesh.

The secrets of the town and the mystery of her mother's past are uncovered as the story progresses. The whimsical touches that endear me to this author are of a character who can see the sweet smell of baking as a flowy, glittery breeze.

The other main character of the story is a woman who returns to the town to settle her father's estate and pay off his debts. Her plan is to leave the town again when she's accomplished this. She also has secrets and a past to be discovered as her own history is revealed.

I am not saying I didn't enjoy The Girl Who Chased the Moon, but I will say my expectations were higher.

Friday, March 5, 2010

"The Help" by Kathryn Stockett

The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Set in the early 1960's in Jackson, Mississippi this novel deals with the culture of southern white people and their attitudes toward blacks, many of whom are their domestic help. The central figure, Skeeter, is a young college graduate looking for more out of life than what is expected of her, marriage, children, charity work, tennis, etc. She knows she is different from her friends who have married and started their families and are on their way to becoming the next generation of the women their mothers were.

Skeeter is challenged to find a topic that inspires passion in her to write about. She eventually decides to write the stories of the town's domestic help, exposing what it is like to be a second class citizen, thought to be less intelligent and carry diseases that would harm white people. Finding women who will tell their stories is just the first challenge. The south at this time is a violent, unsafe place for any colored person who does not know his place and behave accordingly.

Skeeter herself was raised by a black woman for whom she holds very strong affection. When she returns home from college this woman she loves is gone, no longer working for her family, and no one will tell her why she left. She begins to see the dichotomy of hiring people who her class thinks of as "dirty" to clean their homes, prepare their meals and even raise their children. And worse, the love the children and domestic help feel for each other slips away as the children in turn fill the roles of the parents and assume the same attitudes toward the help.

Skeeter's project becomes a reality and a way is established for the help and Skeeter to come together to record their stories. Tension builds through the book with events such as the slaying of Medgar Evers, local violence and the constant worry of the eventual affect of the published book.

Stockett tells the story through the voice of Skeeter and two black women, Aibilene and Minny. I felt she did a good job portraying each of these women, not only in their different skins, but their different cultures, both socially and personally. As much as the story dealt with the race issue, it also explored a culture that can only exist as long as all minds think alike and the ostracisim that must take place of a diverse view.

I loved the book and it's story. I experienced a wide variety of emotions, crying for pain and joy, laughing, cheering and jeering. The characters were convincing and believable. The ending was both sad and hopeful and I find myself wandering back into that world and wondering what they are all doing now.