Thursday, February 11, 2010 11:06 AM
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Southern whites' guilt for not expressing gratitude to the black maids who raised them threatens to become a familiar refrain. But don't tell Kathryn Stockett because her first novel is a nuanced variation on the theme that strikes every note with authenticity. In a page-turner that brings new resonance to the moral issues involved, she spins a story of social awakening as seen from both sides of the American racial divide.
Newly graduated from Ole Miss with a degree in English but neither an engagement ring nor a steady boyfriend, Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan returns to her parents' cotton farm in Jackson. Although it's 1962, during the early years of the civil rights movement, she is largely unaware of the tensions gathering around her town.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Mark Haddon's bitterly funny debut novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, is a murder mystery of sorts--one told by an autistic version of Adrian Mole. Fifteen-year-old Christopher John Francis Boone is mathematically gifted and socially hopeless, raised in a working-class home by parents who can barely cope with their child's quirks. He takes everything that he sees (or is told) at face value, and is unable to sort out the strange behavior of his elders and peers. Late one night, Christopher comes across his neighbor's poodle, Wellington, impaled on a garden fork. Wellington's owner finds him cradling her dead dog in his arms, and has him arrested. After spending a night in jail, Christopher resolves--against the objection of his father and neighbors--to discover just who has murdered Wellington. He is encouraged by Siobhan, a social worker at his school, to write a book about his investigations, and the result--quirkily illustrated, with each chapter given its own prime number--is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
My Name Is Red by Orphan Pamuk
In 16th-century Istanbul, master miniaturist and illuminator of books Enishte Effendi is commissioned to illustrate a book celebrating the sultan. Soon he lies dead at the bottom of a well, and how he got there is the crux of this novel. A number of narrators give testimony to what they know about the circumstances surrounding the murder. The stories accumulate and become more detailed as the novel progresses, giving the reader not only a nontraditional murder mystery but insight into the mores and customs of the time. In addition, this is both an examination of the way figurative art is viewed within Islam and a love story that demonstrates the tricky mechanics of marriage laws. Award-winning Turkish author Pamuk (The White Castle) creatively casts the novel with colorful characters (including such entities as a tree and a gold coin) and provides a palpable sense of atmosphere of the Ottoman Empire that history and literary fans will appreciate