The Help by Kathryn Stockett

The Help by Kathryn Stockett is a heart-wrenchingly beautiful novel about patience, faith, and the transcending power of love.

The novel focuses on three main characters and their intertwining stories. Aibileen Clark is an African-American housekeeper in 1960s Jackson, Mississippi. Tormented by her mistress and haunted by her son’s recent death, Aibileen begins to seek change. Minny Jackson is Aibileen’s best friend. She’s been fired from job after job because of her smart mouth. With five mouths to feed and an abusive husband, Minny is hardened and bitter. However, when she goes to work for Celia Ray, she discovers something new. Eugenia Phelan has been different her entire life. She’s never exactly fit in with her parents’ wealthy, white friends: she longs to be a writer and find true love on the side. As she navigates the treacherous minefield of high society and tentative love, she meets Aibileen and Minny, and the three unite to write a book that may very well get them killed.

The Help is about so much more than the complicated race relations in the mid-90s South. At its heart, it’s a coming-of-age, an opening-of-heart story. Over the course of the plot, the three women learn to find themselves in the blank noise of society, to stay true to themselves when everyone else is telling them to lie. At the end of the day, that is what the novel is about. The enormous power of opening your heart and mind is realistically and hauntingly portrayed here. The hauntingly heartfelt writing style employed by Miss Stockett is perfect- the book reads like a letter written to an old friend. This is a thought-provoking novel that will elicit tears and laughs in equal measures.

-Vaidehi B.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded online for free from Overdrive

The Bell Jar By Sylvia Plath

There are a number of reasons for which this book is famous, but my favorite is that The Bell Jar is the only novel ever written by Sylvia Plath, who has only published two other works (both are books of poetry). In fact, Plath took her own life about a month after The Bell Jar was published, famously putting her head into the oven and turning it on. Her novel is semi-autobiographical, as it follows her life story, changing only the names of her acquaintances and the mental health treatments that the main character, Esther, endures.

While the plot of the novel is intriguing, the most important aspect for me was psychological. The main character, Esther Greenwood, compares life to a bell jar, suffocating her when it covers her completely, and letting her breath when lifted. The bell jar’s meaning has been debated, but I believe that it symbolizes the box that society and Esther’s own perfectionist ideology create. Esther actually spirals into a depressive state, and this peaks when she attempts suicide via overdose in her other’s basement, almost exactly like Plath did with her mother’s sleeping pills under her house in 1953.

After her suicide attempt, Esther spends some time at a mental institution, where she is prescribed electroshock therapy, which was a form of therapy for depression used in the 1950s, in which electric shocks were administered until the patient had a seizure. Guess who else was prescribed electroshock therapy for years? Sylvia Plath- the sheer number of details that match between the novel and its author are the reasons for the novel being called semi-autobiographical.

Overall, this novel is absolutely fantastic, and I would certainly recommend it or anyone looking for a mental and psychological eye-opener. Plath’s detailed insight into mental illnesses that women suffered through during the early to mid-1900s as well as the treatments for these illnesses is truly awakening to the mind. A true work of art, The Bell Jar is a perfect novel for someone looking for psychological semi-fiction.

-Arushi S. 

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

As a rule, I don’t like dystopian fiction. 1984 was a slog, and The Hunger Games never felt real to me. So it was very strange to find myself picking up Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and being completely engrossed by it.

This novel is one read by practically every junior in high school for the last twenty years. Despite the amount of times it’s been run through the curriculum, the story holds up.

The society, called Gilead, through the eyes of the narrator is intense and fearful. It’s one of those stories that you have to pull yourself out of every once in awhile, just to stay sane. I would read through a particularly striking passage, only to realize that I had been holding my breath through the whole thing. That right there is something magical.

It’s not for the fainthearted, though. This book is a rough one to read, loaded with social commentary that feels just as relevant as it was at its publishing in 1985. Atwood manages to discuss up complex issues like abortion and freedom of religion without ever feeling heavy-handed.

This is one of the few books I’ve ever been assigned to read that I could honestly recommend to others, and the first dystopian literature I have enjoyed in a long time.

-Zoe K., 11th Grade

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available for download from Overdrive