The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson

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Title: The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson

Notable: Newbery Honor Book, 1979

Premise:

Gilly Hopkins is in foster care and about to enter a new home.  She wants nothing more than for her mother to swoop in and reclaim her, but alas, it’s not to be.  Gilly’s new home is with a large, motherly woman named Trotter and her foster son, William Ernest.  Gilly’s prejudices come to the forefront when she realizes that she’ll be expected to interact closely with African Americans, and when she passes judgment on Trotter and W. E.  Eventually though, Gilly realizes that sometimes our dreams aren’t what they’re cracked up to be, and making the best of our current situation can turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

My thoughts:

This is a really intense book!  Don’t expect to sit down and just float through it like you’re riding on a big, fluffy cloud.  Paterson doesn’t take shortcuts with her characters and she’s definitely not afraid of giving them flaws.  The main character, Gilly, is one of the most judgmental kids you’ll ever meet in a story, but it’s hard not to root for her.  She’s so miserably unhappy, that Gilly spews her vitriol on everyone around her, picking out traits in others to belittle and make fun of.

She doesn’t like Trotter because she’s overweight; she doesn’t like W. E. because she thinks he’s stupid; she doesn’t like her neighbor or new teacher because they’re black.  In all of these relationships, we see Gilly gradually progress into a new understanding about who they are.  She comes to value each of them and realizes that love and acceptance are possible with people who are different, and not part of your nuclear family.  She never thought she’d come to love these people, but they found a way to infiltrate her heart.  There is no easy fairy-tale ending to the story, but readers are left with the message that we should make the best of our situation in life and look for joy and contentment in what we have today.

As a parent, I have to warn you about the offensive bits in this story.  I wouldn’t want my younger child picking it up and thinking that it’s okay to copy Gilly’s language.  She uses totally inappropriate phrases to talk about Trotter, W. E., Mr. Randolph and Ms. Harris.  In one part the n-word is very clearly implied.  By the end of the book, Gilly’s language has become much tamer, but a child has to be old enough to realize that Gilly’s language is not something to emulate.

I recommend The Great Gilly Hopkins to those who enjoy coming of age novels which tug at your heart strings and are kind of edgy.

Possible Objections:

  • Offensive language (degrading those who are obese, African American, have special needs, etc.)
  • Mild epithets (d-word & hell)

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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The Help – Movie 2011

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Yesterday I watched The Help, the movie adaptation of the book by the same name.  It was awesome!

For those of you who have never read the book, this is a story about a young lady named Skeeter who wants to become a writer, and the relationship she develops with a couple of maids in Jackson, Mississippi during the Civil Rights era.  All of the women will be in grave danger if they are caught as they work on their writing project — sharing what it’s like to live as a black maid in the South during that time period.  If you want to know more about what I thought of the book, check out my book review.

My thoughts:

I was already a fan of the novel, so I was a bit nervous to see how they had translated it to the big screen.  I’m happy to say that the movie adaptation of the book was strong.  I think a large part of the movie’s success is in its amazing actresses.  Whether they are good or bad, all of the ladies played their parts really well.  Even Hilly, the bat-sh** craziest of the Southern belles, excited a certain fascination in me.  She’s one of those characters you love to hate.

The movie was shortened and simplified somewhat from the book, but that is nothing unexpected.  I don’t think the essence of the story was damaged in any way.  I was glad to see that they took out the scene in which Minny and Celia are accosted at Celia’s house.  I thought that it was out of place in the book, and it would have been even more mystifying in the movie.

The true artistry in this film is the message it shares.  Viewers are shown a story of love, acceptance, betrayal, and hatred–and asked to come to their own conclusions.  Who was right and who was wrong?  Can relationships based on respect, compassion and a desire to do what’s right, overcome the color barrier?  Should we take a risk in working with someone different from ourselves, even at the risk of getting burned?  This message needs to be heard today, just as it did during the Civil Rights era, because our country’s racial issues certainly haven’t gone away.

I recommend The Help to all adults and possibly some mature older teens.  Even if you’re not a history buff, it’s still a wonderful story worth watching.

Possible Objections:

  • A moderate amount of bad language
  • Racially offensive language

Rated: PG-13

Rating: 4 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

OTHER THE HELP POSTS:

Tisha: The Story of a Young Teacher in the Alaska Wilderness as told to Robert Specht

Tisha

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Tisha: The Story of a Young Teacher in the Alaska Wilderness is one of my all-time favorite books!  I was introduced to it when I was fairly young, perhaps in grade school.  I believe that I found it on my dad’s bookshelf.  In fact, I still have that very copy, though the binding has completely split by now.

Anyhow, this book is a little difficult to classify because it doesn’t stick to a single genre.  There’s some adventure, some romance, some social commentary, some history.  Since it’s a biography, it is a multi-faceted story.  That makes it especially interesting and entertaining.

The overarching story is about a young woman named Anne Hobbs who goes to Alaska in the 1920’s to teach in the tiny community of Chicken.  She is hoping for some adventure, and boy does she find it!  There is plenty of adventure and action throughout the story, no doubt because of the frontier conditions in Alaska at that time and the inhabitants’ ability to do as they please.  Anne doesn’t understand how things are done in her new community, so she ends up stepping on toes and voicing opinions that are not widely accepted.  Many in the community believe that the Native “Indians” are not as good as white people, and this is where Anne runs into a lot of trouble.  She decides that she will allow the native children to attend school with the white kids, and then she has the gall to fall in love with a man who is half Native American.  There are truly heartbreaking scenes throughout the book, but in the end love wins out.

This story is so charmingly told that you end up feeling like you are a part of Anne’s community.  I love all the details the book gives about what life was like in that small Alaskan town at that particular time in history.  You get a glimpse into history that is both informative and entertaining.  I would highly recommend this book to adults and possibly older teens, depending on their level of maturity.  As you’ll see from the section below, there is quite a bit of objectionable content in the book.

Possible Objections:

  1. There is a lot of racism in this book, whether it’s racial slurs or simply people voicing their prejudices.  Though those views are not advocated, they are presented without apology as the views of some of the significant characters.
  2. Racist terms–more than just against Native Americans.  There are also a few slurs against African Americans and others.  I would not want my children reading those words until they are older and better able to judge that they are inappropriate.
  3. There is mention of one man having tried to start a chapter of the Ku Klux Klan in the town he used to live in.
  4. A child whose father chooses not to acknowledge him is called a “bastard.”
  5. There is a passage where one of the characters beats the donkeys and horses in his pack train to make them continue.  It could be disturbing for some people.
  6. The squalor and disease that is detailed in the Native American community could be disturbing to some readers.
  7. There are some episodes of violence, with people physically fighting.

Rating: 5 Stars

Until next time…

Lori