The Help by Kathryn Stockett
The Help is a novel set in Mississippi during the civil rights movement. It’s told from the point of the view of the three main characters: Skeeter, a recently graduated journalist, and Aibileen and Minny, maids for young, married white women. Skeeter decides to write a book about how the help is treated (hence the title), and it’s a story of all their lives and how that book unfolds. The characters are lovable, and the book is fully of witty comments and heartbreaking moments. Stockett does well with the dialects of the characters. While the movie does stay pretty true to the book, but as always, you should read the book first, if you haven’t seen the movie. If you have, read it anyway. My biggest complaint about the movie is the lack of character development, especially in Miss Celia. I highly recommend you read this book.
Stay, Illusion by Lucie Brock-Broido
Stay, Illusion explores life through poetry. Or poetry through life. Brock-Broido has fantastical images ranging from death to wonder to animal rights. I don’t know what’s so captivating about her poetry, but reading it will most likely make you want to write poetry of your own. Her poetry consists of long lines, most of which can stand on their own, but become something even greater when immersed in her poems. It’s a good read if you’re looking for inspiration.
Black Aperture by Matt Rasmussen
In Black Aperture Rasmussen explores his brother’s suicide. It’s a dark book with haunting images and short poems. With lines like “The last thing the world needs / is another love poem,” you can see how he approaches this tough topic. Rasmussen takes ordinary images and spins them, such as in “Outgoing” where he says,
Our answering machine still played your message,
and on the day you died Dad asked me to replace it.
I was chosen to save us the shame of dead you
answering calls. Hello, I have just shot myself.
To leave a message for me, call hell.
I pressed record
and laid my voice over yours, muting it forever
and even now. I’m sorry we are not here, I began.
It’s a quick read, but it will leave you reeling just a little bit. The poetry is so well done, you don’t even always remember you’re reading poetry.
Racing Savannah by Miranda Kenneally
Racing Savannah is your typical YA romance—which is why I decided to read it (well that and it was available on the online library). It’s the “new girl moves to a new town, finds herself, falls in love with someone she can’t be with, but he falls in love with her too” scenario. It was incredibly predictable, but well-written and interesting nonetheless. Savannah is a lovable character and I’m sure readers will identify with her insecurities as well as her courage and pluck. Since half the plot focuses on horses, it wasn’t really up my alley, but anyone who loves horses and YA fiction I’m sure will find this book enjoyable. It’s not something I’d read over and over, but it’s a good lazy day read. I’d definitely be interested in other books by this author.
Every Day by David Levithan
Every Day is weird. It’s YA fiction about a “person” who switches bodies every day (hence the title) and does not have a body of its own. (I say “its” because not having a body means not having a gender.) This person then falls in love with a girl and the whole thing is them trying to make their relationship work even though the protagonist, A, is in a different body (although all the bodies are sixteen years old) every day. There are interesting plot aspects that get introduced then ignored entirely (such as how the whole switching bodies thing works) and the book focuses almost entirely on A’s feelings and emotions. This novel definitely had an interesting concept and was executed well, just maybe not how I would have done it. That being said, it was an interesting, quality read. I felt, however, as if the whole book was simply a push for LGBT equality. What does it matter who we fall in love with; gender is just a body. That was the message being pushed—although there were other messages as well, like don’t make fun of people and depression is a real thing and needs real help. My favorite part was a reference satirizing the poet William Carlos Williams. I generally like David Levithan’s work (The Lover’s Dictionary is one of my favorite novels of this genre and one of my favorite twitter accounts), but this book was a little too much for me. The novel, in my opinion, was a thinly-veiled social commentary. A well-written fictional one, but one nonetheless. I would suggest it, if the plot sounds interesting to you, but I would warn you to read it with a grain of salt.
The Truth About You and Me by Amanda Grace
The Truth About You and Me is about a smart high school student in college classes who falls for her college professor. He falls for her too, and then all hell breaks loose. That may be dramatizing it a bit, but it’s the general gist. It’s your typical teen angst novel, only it’s written in the form of a letter from the protagonist (Maddie) to her teacher/lover (Bennett—on a side note, can I just say how much I love the name Bennett?), which was an interesting twist from the normal cliche. It was interesting enough that I finished it, but not quite interesting enough that I would read it again or recommend it to someone looking for an enthralling book. I would, however, recommend it to someone who wanted something easy with an interesting, if somewhat cliched, storyline that he or she could read in a day/weekend. Keep in mind I may not have been the intended audience, too. This book was written for sixteen/seventeen year old girls. Anyone not in that category wouldn’t quite appreciate the level of angst that only those in that category are capable of. I finished it; it wasn’t bad.
The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory
The Other Boleyn Girl tells the story of King Henry VIII of England and his first two wives, Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn. It’s told from the perspective of Mary Boleyn, Anne’s sister, and follows Anne’s ambitious rise to power. I found this book at a thrift store, so I wasn’t sure if it was going to be any good; I started it thinking I would just give it a chance, only to find that I was two hundred pages into it. The Other Boleyn Girl is a fascinating and character-driven story that will keep you interested the whole way through, even if you already know the story of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. While not necessarily entirely historically accurate (it has the bare facts and a lot of artistic license), it’s an interesting novel about 16th century English court and the flirting and intrigue that goes with it, showing the struggle of women to be more than just pawns in someone else’s game.
Unfortunately, the movie is not on Netflix, so I can’t tell you how it compares. :(
Update: The book was better than the movie, naturally, but the movie is definitely worth a watch. The acting is wonderful, although the movie leaves out a lot of major plot aspects in the book. Oh, and Benedict Cumberbatch is in it.
Divergent by Veronica Roth
Divergent is a dystopian novel about a girl who must decide which faction of society to put herself into now that she is sixteen. The factions are based on which character traits are strongest in a person. I know I’m a little late in reading this novel, but at least I read it before I saw the movie. (I would recommend doing that, by the way, I would always recommend doing that.) Anyway, once she picks her faction, she novel follows her struggle to fit in there and understand herself and the society of which she is a part. Except there’s a lot more action. I’m not really sure how to go into more detail without giving away elements of the plot. Also, if you can help it, don’t watch the movie trailer before you read the book, there are a lot of spoilers. I’m sure it would have been a little more intense if I hadn’t already known part of what was going to happen. Still, it was difficult to put down. This novel is faintly reminiscent of The Hunger Games, but it’s unique enough to not feel simply like another teen-angst-set-in-the-bad-future book. (Disclaimer: That’s not what I thought of The Hunger Games, but plot lines do have a tendency to get old, especially in the YA genre.) The writing style is simple and easy-to-read, and the characters are lovable and fascinating (although there are quite a few and some of them are not very memorable). I love a good action-adventure heroine, and Tris does not disappoint.
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Things Fall Apart is an African novel focusing around the main character, Okonkwo, and what happens when white missionaries come to his village. Since it’s written by a native Nigerian, the language is different from any other book I’ve read. The sentences are long and flowing and altogether pleasing to the ear. He also introduces the reader to many foreign words that give flavor to the story. The plot is easy to follow and, even with the foreign concepts, it’s pretty easy to understand what’s happening. Things Fall Apart, according to Wikipedia, is the most widely read book in modern African literature—so it’s a pretty big deal. It’s an easy read, and I would highly recommend it, if only to say you’ve read it.