Then: The HelpBy Kathryn Stockett
464 pages; Amy Einhorn/Putnam
Practically from the moment it was published in 2009, the reading world embraced Kathryn Stockett's The Help,
a debut novel about black maids who finally speak up about their white employers during the civil rights movement. A fixture at the top of most best-seller lists, it became the feel-good book of the year.Get the reading group guideNow: Glorious
By Bernice L. McFadden
250 pages; Akashic
Bernice L. McFadden's riveting novel, Glorious
, starts in the Jim Crow South and moves to the Harlem Renaissance, and finally to the same civil rights era Stockett chronicled, but it's a grittier, more brutal tale. Easter Bartlett, a young black woman, flees Georgia after seeing too much, including a mob lynching of a pregnant woman. Easter is no victim, though. In Harlem she encounters a world where crowds gather to cheer the "Black Moses" Marcus Garvey and publishers enthuse about the exotic genius of "Negro" writers. Still, it's hardly a postracial paradise. McFadden—in vivid vernacular—brilliantly skewers the vanity of self-congratulatory liberals. A white woman returning from Paris with her black lover gushes, "Before our encounter, I had never even spoken to a Negro. They were invisible to me and now I see them everywhere!" Easter achieves some brief literary fame, but by 1961, she is tired, and battered by stubborn racial attitudes. In confronting one final injustice, she doesn't just survive; she triumphs—gloriously. — Karen HoltGet the reading group guideNext: Mother knows best, in China and Jamaica...