Island Beneath the Sea (Isabel Allende)

 Zerite was born a slave on the French island colony Saint-Domingue, a place we now know to be Haiti. She dreamed of a life beyond being someone's property, yet nothing life sent her way enabled her to escape. The paths of Toulouse Valmorain (her master) and Violette Boisier (prostitute and Zerite's friend) intertwine tragically and beautifully with Zerite's life in appalling ways, revealing a great deal about slavery and plantations on colonial Saint-Domingue and beyond. In fact, this story of Zerite's life is set in the late 1770s and spans historical events that occurred everywhere from Saint Domingue all the way to New Orleans.

Zerite is born into an inferior position in a tumultuous time, and she is a beautiful soul who lives an immensely difficult life. Throughout her story, I continued to hope against all hope that somehow things would work out for Zerite...that somehow she could ease through one loophole or another and find her happiness. Be forearned: rarely did this happen for Zerite; unfortunately, hers was a very realistic tale.

A work of historical fictionIsland Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende provides a holistic understanding of slavery in the Caribbean and gulf societies. Among the many stories colliding in this book is the fascinating history of the very factual uprising among slaves in Saint-Domingue

Slavery in America is a commonly explored topic in literature, although far from a fully exhausted one. Books such as this present the uncomfortable opportunity to digest slavery, one of the most unpalatable periods in history. 

13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey (Kathryn Tucker Windham and Margaret Gillis Figh)



June 12, 2011 marked the passing of Kathryn Tucker Windham, one of Alabama's most famous authors. Known for her storytelling abilities, Windham's most notable works were her Jeffrey books. 13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey was Windham's first, and though it was published in 1969 it remains one of the most popular items in my nonfiction section to date.

From the ghost of a forlorn captain haunting Mobile's State Street to the sulking phantom of a young girl at Huntingdon College, 13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey takes readers all over the state of Alabama in an adventure of legend and mystery.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (Maya Angelou)


There are some books, some authors, whose styles resonate soundly within me. To Kill a Mockingbird is that way. Every time I crack it open, I literally sigh my way through it because it is just so...beautiful.

I really like to read and enjoy a rather nice variety of genres, but I LOVE it when an author takes ordinary words and crafts them into something so pretty it can only be called art.

Maya Angelou is an amazing wordsmith, and I adore her style. When I was about 2 chapters in to this book, all I could think was I will never forgive my high school English teachers for not exposing us to this.* I mean, we had to read "Hedda Gabler," for cryin' out loud! Ugh.


I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is Maya Angelou's autobiography. She and her older brother Bailey were brought South to live with their grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas when they were children (this would be the 50's), and encountered more than one brush with racism in its ugliest forms. The best parts of this book are Maya's penning of segregation and racism in ways most people have never fathomed. Before long they were returned to live with their mother, in California. She was a wild woman with a fierce love for her children but little regard for structured parenting. Maya's experiences living with her mother taught her everything she wanted to know and didn't want to know about family. Sadly, young Maya was sexually abused for a lengthy period of time, and soon after she and her brother returned to Arkansas for a time before a string of moves involving their father, their mother, and their grandmother. As Maya grew into a young woman, she questioned everything about herself, including her appearance, her sexuality, and her relationships with her family members. This "self-discovery" led to a pregnancy, and at a very young age Maya Angelou became a mother to her son.

Eventually Maya ended up in the theater and, through both her innate ability to paint pictures with her words and her proclivity for delivering them theatrically, has become an icon of both this century and the last. She continues to write and speak about her life, and the literary world is a better place because she's in it.

Some of my favorite lines from the book:

On Maya's and Bailey's arriving in Stamps, Arkansas: "The town reacted to us as its inhabitants had reacted to all things new before our coming. It regarded us a while without curiosity but with caution, and after we were seen to be harmless (and children) it closed in around us, as a real mother embrace's a stranger's child. Warmly, but not too familiarly." pg. 5

"Of all the needs (and there are none imaginary) a lonely child has, the one that must be satisfied, if there is going to be hope and a hope of wholeness, is the unshaking need for an unshakable God." pg. 23

On her relationship with her brother: "Bailey was the greatest person in my world. And the fact that he was my brother, my only brother, and I had no sisters to share him with, was such good fortune that it made me want to live a Christian life just to show God I was grateful." pg. 22

Maya's feelings while listening to a white politician giving a speech at her high school graduation: "We were maids and farmers, handymen and washerwomen, and anything higher we aspired to was farcical and presumptuous." pg. 180

*I suspect that the reason I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was kept from us in high school was the chapter toward the end in which she struggles with issues relating to her sexuality. If I'm right, I find this rather unfortunate. I'm a full believer in taking care not to expose children and young adults to material not developmentally appropriate. I also believe that we all need to do a better job of making sure that we aren't "protecting" children and teenagers from issues we find too uncomfortable ourselves. Yet again, a post for another day.

The Help (Kathryn Stockett)

Of all the books I read, there are precious few that grab hold of my heart the way this one has. I have not fallen so deeply in love with a book like this since To Kill a Mockingbird. The hubs was privy to many of the hilarious occurrences buried in these twenty or so odd chapters, and I love him for always listening when I started out with "You are not gonna believe what Minny Jackson has done to Miss Hilly Holbrook now!"

Set in the tumultuous 1960's in the even more volatile city of Jackson, Mississippi, this is the tale of a blossoming novelist and her desire to write about the precarious relationship between white ladies and their black maids. "The help" finally get their chance to tell their side of the story, but it is not without consequence for these truly brave women of Jackson.

Like all great novels, The Help is wondrously complex, with its side stories twisting and turning all over one another in one red hot mess. Skeeter is a new graduate with no prospects for a husband and, much to her momma's chagrin, is itching to put her shiny new English degree to use. While writing for the town paper, Skeeter's eyes become opened to the injustice of the way black people are treated. She begins to question the lines that have always been so clearly assumed between the white family and the help. Aibileen is one of the first maids willing to share her stories, and is soon followed by several others, all with the strictest condition of anonymity. They all have much to lose if they are discovered.

There are some truly lovable women in this book. Minny, Aibileen, and Skeeter are just the kinds of characters you love to love. Hilly, Stuart, and Elizabeth are simply the ones you love to hate. Regardless of which side they are on, every character is distinctively complicated. Their natures and their situations would easily give way to endless discussions in a book club or high school lit class.

I'm definitely filing this one under "Favorites." :)

For more about the author: http://www.kathrynstockett.com/ 

I also just discovered that The Help is coming to a theater near you in August! :)

Diamond Jim Dandy and the Sheriff (Sarah Burell)

         
One of the funnier books my daughter has chosen lately, Diamond Dim Dandy and the Sheriff has been at the top of the "Frequently Read" list at our house. Best read with an exaggerated Southern drawl, Diamond Jim is a great pick for preschoolers or readalouds in the school setting. On an ordinary, boring, "nothing ever happens in Dustbin, Texas" day, Diamond Jim the rattlesnake slithers into town. He does a great job of freaking out the Sheriff, whose job of course it is to keep out ragamuffin rattlers like Diamond Jim. Even though he wins the affections of the townspeople, the Sheriff remains skeptical of this friendly rattlesnake until the day he puts his rattles to good use for a special little girl in Dustbin, Texas.