The Help by Kathryn Stockett

I am normally bothered by major southern accents when reading a book. Even when they make sense for the story, they don’t help immerse me in the story but keep me from fully enjoying it. Usually, anyway. The Help has such a powerful story that for the first time in a long time, it didn’t bother me at all. It just felt right, as did so much of this book. The voices were so captivating and strong that it worked. Sure, I couldn’t help but imagine Emma Stone speaking whenever I read a line spoken by Skeeter, but as a fan of Emma Stone (I saw the movie first) this didn’t bother me.

The plot: There is no more complex and bizarre relationship than that of women in the south in the sixties, where black women raise white babies while working as the help in wealthy white homes and yet are treated as second class, disease-ridden citizens at the same time. Skeeter is an aspiring journalist and college grad who returns home to find that the black maid who raised her is gone without explanation. This helps set her on a dangerous journey, where she recruits Aibeleen, Minny, and other black maids to tell their stories as the invisible help in white homes.

Though Skeeter is the mode through which their stories are able to be told, Aibeleen and Minny stand on their own as main characters with inspirational journeys. Some may think Skeeter’s role diminishes Aibeleen and Minny’s accomplishments and daring (because a white woman played a major role in helping them do it and have the courage), but I think she simply showed them that it is possible for a white woman to think differently and therefore trying to reveal the truth might be worth it. Basically, I think she gave them perspective. To say that this is Skeeter’s story would be a mistake. It is Minny’s story and Aibeleen’s story as much as Skeeter’s and the book shows them all evenly.

The movie itself is pretty fantastic, but what it couldn’t capture the way the book did, was the intense isolation experienced by Skeeter as she went through her journey. Whether or not you see the movie, I recommend you read this book. I have mostly been reading Young Adult books lately, but this book was well worth the deviation.

Uglies: Specials (Book 3) by Scott Westerfeld

Tally has gone from Ugly to Pretty to dreaded Special. Now she is specially enhanced to help keep the people of her city in line–the pretties stupid and the uglies ready for their operations.

Once again we have the all too long passage of isolation where Tally is forced to reconsider her life while out in nature alone. I get that it is a theme, that being out in nature changes you. At the same time, it gets slow and tedious and a bit repetitive. (I say that despite enjoying the book.)

It is hard to get in touch with Tally and the other main characters because their personality change from one moment to the next. Tally is the sort of character who tends to get forced into situations and only takes action as a last resort. As a result, she is not my favorite character (of the many books I have read), but the fight itself–the bigger struggle against the city and the operations–is still interesting.

[SPOILER:] I am not sure how I felt about the resolution of the love triangle, it felt like an easy out. Tally never truly had to choose and technically she got them both in the end yet there was never the sense that her feelings for David ever resurfaced exactly. It is powerful to see her reaction to Zane once she finally sees him. It really highlights the ideas of being obsessed with beauty, being controlled by the government and brainwashing in a way that nothing else could.

Though not my favorite dystopian series, Westerfeld has a way with words that makes even the slower sequences enough to keep you turn pages.