Posts tagged ‘thesouth’

May 10th, 2010

Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez; Review

by Madeleine Rex

Title: Wench

Author: Dolen Perkins-Valdez

Published: January 5th, 2010 by HarperCollins

Number of Pages: 304

Rating: 3/5

Review Sent to HarperCollins*:

Wench is a novel full of characters in situations you can relate to without having to experience them – a sign of spectacularly descriptive writing and words that are not superfluous, but necessary and truthful. The horror of what these slave wenches went through is only surpassed in power by the women’s strength and determination. Wench is a book that will empower its women readers and make evident all that they have to be thankful for. It’s an enlightening, heartwarming, and entirely surprising novel written by a woman who clearly cares immensely about womankind.


Wench was an intriguing book, but I can’t say that I loved it. It’s doubtful that I’d read it again. However, I found the strength of the slave mistresses inspiring. The history, the incredible atmosphere of the novel was wonderful, and I got a fascinating though slightly sickening view into life in the ol’ South. (The book isn’t actually set in the South, but you get the picture.)

The slave women meet year after year at a hotel in Ohio, where there masters bring them in the summer. The men are favored slaves for their strength, skills, and/or cooperation. The women are favored as well, in the way that any woman in her right mind would hate to be. The masters’ wives are entirely aware of why the men bring along these women. It’s horrific to think of how generally excepted the situations of these women were.

Anyway, it’s when a new woman who is not so accepting  joins the party that a spark of rebellion and wonder is sparked. From then on, no one’s quite as satisfied with their lifestyle as they were before. Some of the slaves learn to write. It was the typical downfall of parts of the slave structure: Once the enslaved people realized that they had the power, that they truly were deserving, that a better future was possible, they snatched at every opportunity to learn and better their situation. Thank goodness for that downfall.

I enjoyed reading from such an insightful view, where I could watch through clear eyes as the people were treated brutally or deceived. More importantly, I loved that I could be intimate with the women and watch first-hand as they gathered the strength that they hadn’t realized they had and took advantage of it. A few of them began to stand up for themselves, despite the thoughts nagging them, saying, “You’re ruining yourself. You’re ruining yourself.” They did what was right, they stood up for and were examples to the women around them, saying You can’t take me and not give anything back.

If you’re eager to read an empowering novel, one that speaks ardently of the strength, will-power, and value of women, this is the book for you. It would be an absolutely fabulous book club pick.

As I felt with The Girl Who Fell from the Sky (Review), I was a bit uncomfortable with parts of the novel. At the same time, however, it was usually an essential part of portraying the abuse. The brutal clarity rung in your mind and infused in you an indignation bordering on utter fury.

So, though the book was intriguing and  harbored a wonderful message, I didn’t love it as much as I hoped I would. I do believe, however, that many will find comfort and inspiration in this novel.

Just a reminder that tomorrow is the last day to enter to win ONE of FIVE copies of Sorta Like a Rock Star.

*Thanks for the book!

January 26th, 2010

The Help by Kathryn Stockett; Review

by Madeleine Rex

Title: The Help

Author: Kathryn Stockett

Published: February 10, 2009 by Penguin Group

Number of Pages: 464

Rating: 4/5

Quote: (Sorry it’s so long. I couldn’t shorten it because it’s my favorite part of the book and chopping it up seems like blasphemy.)

“’Mae Mobley? Mae Mobley Leefolt!’

“Miss Leefolt just now noticing her child ain’t setting in the same room with her. ‘She out here with me, Miss Leefolt,’ I say through the screen door.

“’I told you to eat in your highchair, Mae Mobley. How I ended up with you when all my friends have angels I just don’t know…’ But then the phone ring and I hear her stomping off to get it.

“I look down at Baby Girl, see how her forehead’s all wrinkled up between the eyes. She studying hard on something.

“I touch her cheek. ‘You alright, baby?’

“She say, ‘Mae Mo bad.’

“The way she say it, like it’s a fact, make my insides hurt.

“’Mae Mobley,’ I say cause I got a notion to try something. ‘You a smart girl?’

“She just look at me, like she don’t know.

“’You a smart girl,’ I say again.

“She say, ‘Mae Mo smart.’

“I say, ‘You a kind little girl?’

“She look at me. She two years old. She don’t know what she is yet.

“I say, ‘You a kind girl,’ and she nod, repeat it back to me. But before I can do another one, she get up and chase that poor dog around the yard and laugh and that’s when I get to wondering, what would happen if I told her she something good, ever day?

“She turn from the birdbath and smile and holler, ‘Hi, Aibee. I love you, Aibee,’ and I feel a tickly feeling, soft like the flap a butterfly wings, watching her play out there. The way I used to feel watching Treelore. And that makes me a kind a sad, memoring.

“After while, Mae Mobley come over and press her cheek up to mine and just hold it there, like she know I’ll be hurting. I hold her tight, whisper, ‘You a smart girl. You a kind girl, Mae Mobley. You hear me?’ And I keep saying it till she repeat it back to me.”


I’d heard so much about The Help before I decided to read it, but it wasn’t until I put a hold on it online that I realized what sort of book I was dealing with – I was approximately hold 378 of 378 holds. Whoa. So, naturally, I was intrigued and very happy to borrow a copy from one of my mom’s friends.

The Help deals with a time and topic that I have a great interest in. I search out books set in and around times when racial tension was at its highest. Gone with the Wind, which I read in fifth grade, planted the seed that sprouted into that interest. I also thought the point of view of The Help (which, for the most part, was actually that of “the help” – the black maids that worked for white women in the 1960’s – the time of the Civil Rights act and Martin Luther King, i.e. an epic time in US history) was a fascinating one and one that was entirely new to me.

Once I opened the book and began my read, it took me some time to adapt to the slightly illiterate voice of Aibileen, the first maid from whose POV we read. Not surprisingly, she was not very well educated, and that’s reflected in her voice.  While a hindrance to fluid reading at times, I am fond of touches of like this, and enjoyed Aibileen’s sweet but blunt way of relating events. Later, we’d be introduced to Minny, another maid, and Miss Skeeter, a white young woman. Note: You’re going to love Minny. She’s such a sassy, pain-in-the-butt. It’s endearing. Miss Skeeter I liked as well for a few reasons, two of which were 1) She’s a writer and I like that quality and 2) She’s quite a decent person, an even more important attribute.

The Help tells the story of black women in a time dominated by white people. It tells the truth, as an 83-year-old friend of mine can testify.

Miss Skeeter, twenty years old, tall, and unattractive, just wants to write, move out of her parents’ house, and get her mom off her back. Then, she finds herself becoming more and more interested in the lives of black women after asking Aibileen, her friend’s maid, for help with her advice column in the local newspaper. Not a safe interest. Not one people respect. With a friend like Miss Hilly, deceptive and very, very pro-segregation, Skeeter should probably sleep with a knife under her pillow.

A forbidden interest Skeeter could handle, until she became determined to record the stories of the black women she had hardly noticed before. With Aibileen’s help, Skeeter starts out on a mission to make these women’s voices heard.

And that’s only what I consider to be the main plot. The Help is engorged with subplots, some touching, some disturbing, and some hopeless. You’ll feel a large range of emotions while reading this book.

The alternating POVs are ideal for giving us the inside scoop on multiple situations. Stockett uses the different POVs just as an author should – to keep you reading until your eyes hurt. Every time she switched, she left the last section hanging, sending me off to count the chapters until we returned to the POV from which I had been reading. Of course, I’d finally reach that point, but I’d already be counting the chapters to another character’s section. It’s maddening but very effective. (Writers: I recommend this strategy.)

I loved that the book didn’t hide behind a veil of fluff and inconsequential details. Just as Aibileen was, the book was blunt and treated the serious topic as it should be – seriously. At the same time, it wasn’t full of the Ku Klux Klan and brutal murders (although there was one of those…). It didn’t call all white women evil devils. The book was reasonable. It was a story of these women’s lives, fictional, of course, but entirely plausible. Because of that fact, we felt for the women in the story and the women those characters embodied.

I’d certainly recommend The Help to book clubs as it’s full of wonderful discussion topics. I’d also recommend it to anyone on the look-out for books that make them think – about the pros and cons of human nature, revolution, etc. When I think back on The Help, I can’t help but ponder a topic that I think was only vaguely addressed: The hope we have in the next generations. The hope that they’ll learn from our mistakes and instead make their own ones – maybe just as stupid, but still different.

On the downside, my aunt did make a good point: That the last fifty to one hundred pages felt like a screenplay, felt as if they were meant to be filmed. I didn’t notice it until I thought back, but it’s a good point – they sort of did.

All in all, I thought The Help was a heartening, reassuring, and riveting story. It’s worth a read, even if you’re hold 257 of 257 holds.