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

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Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Big Bad Ironclad! by Nathan Hale

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Title: Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Big Bad Ironclad! by Nathan Hale

Notable: Book #2 in the Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales series

Premise:

In this book, Nathan Hale tells the Hangman and the British Soldier a tale about ironclad ships which fought during the American Civil War.  Both the North and South experimented with covering wooden ships with thick iron, both to make them impervious to enemy fire and to use as a formidable offensive weapon.

My thoughts:

This is a really fun way to teach kids about a lesser known aspect of the Civil War.  When I was a kid I never heard anything about the iron-covered ships that were used during the Civil War.  The designs were ingenious and, unfortunately, caused a lot of destruction.

We also learn about the exploits of Will Cushing, a young man who enjoyed pulling pranks, was kicked out of the Navy, and later went on to do great exploits when his pranks were put to good use in the Navy.  His tale adds the personal element that I think this story would otherwise be lacking.

The way this story is told is a bit meandering and not terribly cohesive, but I think that’s because it’s talking about the concept of iron ships, rather than a specific event in history.  Also, it doesn’t cover the entire story of the Civil War.  If you want your child to understand more about the overarching story of the Civil War, you’ll have to supplement their reading.  With that being said, I still think this is a great book to teach kids about history!

I recommend Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Big Bad Ironclad! to kids who enjoy graphic novels and would prefer to learn about history through that medium.  Even for older folks, it’s a fun way to learn about history.

 

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

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Title: The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Premise:

Eugenia (Skeeter) Phelan is tired of the same old life in her hometown of Jackson, Mississippi.  She dreams of becoming a writer, but her only contact at the publishing company challenges her to write about something she cares about and submit it, before she will be considered for a job.  Skeeter decides she wants to explore what it’s like to live as a black maid in the South, and seeks maids to help her complete the project, but it’s very risky.  Will she ever get enough women to agree to be interviewed to complete the book? (This is a very abbreviated version of what the novel is about.  I didn’t want to ruin the plot line for you!)

My thoughts:

I picked this book up at Wal-mart some time ago, and just now got to reading it.  Once I started reading though, I could hardly put it down!  The story was engrossing and I enjoyed getting to know the characters, though some were not so nice.  I also appreciated that it was set in a particular historical period (the Civil Rights era) and alluded to those events and that cultural environment.

Aibileen was my favorite character because of her sweet spirit and determination to overcome life’s obstacles.  She was wise and patient, insightful and nurturing.  Minny was really fun to read about, too.  Her spunk and blunt honesty were refreshing.  I also liked Skeeter, who decided to buck tradition and think for herself.  She stuck with her convictions, even when they made her unpopular and the going got tough.

I do wish we could have seen a little more development with some of the characters.  I feel like Celia could have undergone a metamorphosis, and Skeeter would have been better served having had a grand epiphany, but I’m not the author.  Though I had hoped for just a smidge more from the characters, I enjoyed seeing their progression in their thinking, relationships with one another, and their commitment to their mutual project.

Once criticism that I’ve heard about this book is that it’s impossible for the author to truly know what it was like to be a black maid in the South during that era.  (The author is white, relatively young, and not poor.)  I knew that going into the book, so I wasn’t expecting this to be a historically accurate novel in terms of character portrayal.  I think  the author did a fair job of imagining what it would be like to be a black maid during that time, and really, that’s the most we can ask of her.  So just take her portrayals with a grain of salt and don’t get bent out of shape if it’s not 100% accurate.  This issue didn’t really bother me at all, but I know that it’s a hang-up for others.

There is one thing about the book which did bother me, though.  There’s a scene where Minny and Celia are accosted by another character, in a very objectionable and yucky way, and to me, it felt very out of character with the rest of the book.  I understand how it helped the plot progress by putting the characters in the situation they were in, but I feel like the same plot progression could have been achieved in a less disgusting way.  Notice I’m not giving too many details, but if you’ve read the book, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.  It’s really not something I can discuss in polite company.

There’s another thing that happens in the novel which I don’t think is very realistic.  When Minny makes the pie for Miss Hilly, I don’t believe she would have done it as portrayed in the story.  It doesn’t jive with her character, plus people just don’t want to dabble with that stuff anyway.  Again, read the book and you’ll know what I’m referring to.

I recommend The Help to adults who enjoy period novels, particularly ones that take place during the Civil Rights era (with the caveat that there are two parts that you will probably dislike).  Though this is a fictitious account, the time period during which it takes place gives it an interesting cultural context, and helps us feel a little more about what it may have felt like to live in the South during that time.

A favorite quote:

“The next few weeks is real important for Mae Mobley.  You think on it, you probably don’t remember the first time you went to the bathroom in the toilet bowl stead of a diaper.  Probably don’t give no credit to who taught you, neither.  Never had a single baby I raise come up to me and say, Aibileen, why I sure do thank you for showing me how to go in the pot.”  (p. 126)

Possible Objections:

  • outdated and offensive racial language
  • some sexual stuff (one scene in particular is offensive)
  • some violence

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup

12 Years Slave - WM

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Twelve Years a Slave is the final book in my Rainbow Cover Reading Challenge!  I am so excited to give away the books from this challenge to one lucky winner–so stay tuned!

I was really looking forward to reading this book because I’ve been studying slavery and other social justice issues since I was a child.  For some reason, those difficult subjects have always fascinated me.  I had never heard of Solomon Northup, nor seen the recent movie that is based on this book.

First, you should know that this book uses old-fashioned language.  That’s just something that you’ll have to get used to.  The words may not flow off your tongue like melted butter, but you should really stick with it because of how truly fascinating the story is.

Second, you will notice that this story seems to be choked with minute details that wouldn’t really be necessary for simply telling the story.  There are a couple of reasons for this.  First, Solomon had to establish his right in representing the true state of slavery by proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that his story was undeniably true.  All of the small details in the book are facts that could be checked and corroborated.  Additionally, Solomon published this book a short time after he was rescued from captivity, hoping that by sharing his story he could educate people about the truth of slavery.  (Remember, at this time there were people who actually believed that the slave preferred his state of bondage to a life of freedom.)  As a free, educated colored man, he had a unique perspective to offer.  He had been accustomed to freedom, then that freedom was stripped from him and he was forced to endure slavery.  Twelve years later he was restored to freedom again.  Upon his return, he could give utterance to the true state of slavery in an observant, introspective, and educated manner.  He could speak to whites at the time on an equal footing (at least intellectually).  So, while the details may get tedious and seem irrelevant at times, they served a very specific purpose when the book was written.

I must say that I really enjoyed this book.  I didn’t enjoy reading about the hardships and injustices, but I appreciated learning about Solomon’s experiences.  Mainly he shares events and information about his daily life in a matter-of-fact tone.  He also shares the things he felt and what others said.  The reader is expected to arrive at their own conclusion as to whether or not slavery is a just institution.  I appreciate that Solomon appealed to the reader to take what they had read and consult their own conscience about what was fair or not.

A couple of my favorite quotes:

“They left me in the cabin, that I might rest.  Blessed be sleep!  It visiteth all alike, descending as the dews of heaven on the bond and free.  Soon it nestled to my bosom, driving away the troubles that oppressed it, and bearing me to that shadowy region, where I saw again the faces, and listened to the voices of my children, who, alas, for aught I knew in my waking hours, had fallen into the arms of that other sleep, from which they never would arouse.” (p. 94)

“‘If I was in New-England,’ returned Bass, ‘I would be just what I am here.  I would say that Slavery was an iniquity, and ought to be abolished.  I would say there was no reason nor justice in the law, or the constitution that allows one man to hold another man in bondage.  It would be hard for you to lose your property, to be sure, but it wouldn’t be half as hard as it would be to lose your liberty.  You have no more right to your freedom, in exact justice, than Uncle Abram yonder.  Talk about black skin, and black blood; why, how many slaves are there on this bayou as white as either of us?  And what difference is there in the color of the soul?  Pshaw! the whole system is as absurd as it is cruel.'” (p. 179)

Because of the subject matter and language, I would suggest this book for teens and up.

Possible Objections:

  • A lot of violence
  • Racial epithets
  • Bad language — mostly the d-word
  • Some talk of sexual exploitation

Rating: 5 Stars

Until next time…

Lori