The Help, by Kathryn Stockett

I think I keep saying this but: I’ve been meaning to pull this book off my shelf for quite some time (and of course, to watch the film adaptation afterwards). Well, I finally got around to it, and I see why so many people have been captivated by this story: Stockett keeps the reader turning pages with a great plot, great writing, interesting characters, and so much tension.

This is a story about the struggle for equality, the courage it takes to stand up for what’s write in the face of inequality, and more than anything, it’s about elevating Black voices and Black stories. Of course, it’s a little hard to ignore that this is a story by a white writer, and that the hero protagonist is white, so in that sense the central theme of elevating Black voices seems a little… ironic. Even a bit problematic. Nevertheless, I think Stockett has written a great novel with a powerful message at it’s core.

I should probably add that, just after finishing the novel, I watched the film adaptation. As always, the book is better, and some things were left out or underdeveloped in the film, but overall I enjoyed it.

Hamnet – To Read or Not To Read?

Definitely “To Read.” There really is no question on this one. Maggie O’Farrell has done such a brilliant job in Hamnet of reimagining the life of Shakespeare and his family. I dove into this one because, as a book nerd, I was excited at the idea of a historical fiction novel based on Shakespeare, but to be honest this book is so well written, and the narrative so enticing, that I wouldn’t have been able to put it down even if it had no historical context or connection to anything. It’s just an incredible story.

However, knowing that this is a historical novel based loosely on Shakespeare added a whole extra layer of intrigue when reading Hamnet. Though it is entirely a work of fiction, I still felt like O’Farrell developed the characters in such a way that gave dignity and life to historical figures who, especially in the cases of Shakespeare’s son, Hamnet, and his wife, Agnes, have largely been criticized or ignored. I really enjoyed listening to Maggie O’Farrell speak to this in the New York Times Book Review Podcast, and would highly encourage anyone who finishes the book to check out the interview, to better understand O’Farrell’s reasons for making the decisions she did when writing Hamnet.

This is probably my favorite book of the year so far, so I really hope you’ll read it. When you do, be sure to let me know what you think in the comments section below!

Related Links

Use my bookshop page to find the book from an independent bookstore or publisher HERE

Listen to the New York Book Review Review Podcast with Maggie O’Farrell HERE

Historical Fiction You Need to Read: The Nickel Boys

Recently, I had a conversation with someone a generation older than me about a non-fiction book they were reading (I forget which one… It doesn’t matter for my point here, except that I want to read it), and at least three times the person said, “They just never taught us that side of history when I was in school.”

That conversation was on my mind the entire time I was reading The Nickel Boys, by Colson Whitehead.

Since my 11th grade AP History course (shout out to Ms. Bailey!), when I first read Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, I’ve been continuously discovering the ways in which history has been told “by the conquerors”, as people say. Oppressors might be a more appropriate word, but the point remains the same: some histories are routinely, institutionally ignored.

But for me, no offense to AP History, it’s really been my love for fiction (especially historical fiction) that has illuminated the realities of who’s history gets told. And that brings me, at last, to the book at hand.

The Nickel Boys is a book based on true, horrifying events they don’t tell you about in grade school; a kind of historical fiction that simultaneously captivates and enrages. It follows one boy’s experience in a segregated school for boys’ reform, and for me, it provided yet another example of how some history is intentionally perpetuated while others are swept under the rug.

And yet, despite how infuriating this untold history is, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t enthralled cover to cover. I could hardly put this story down, as much as I wanted it (or anything like it) to have never happened. That is, The Nickel Boys is incredibly powerful not only for the historical truths that it reveals, but also for Whitehead’s capacity for storytelling. He invigorates this story with relatable characters and moving friendships, with beautiful and skillful prose.

It’s on ever best-seller list for a reason. It won a Pullitzer Prize for a reason. It’s incredible – quite simply, a must read.

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