Gone With the Wind - Margaret Mitchell, Linda Stephens Tara Plantation, near Jonesborough, near Atlanta, Georgia

Katie "Scarlett" O'Hara is the most charming Southern belle, gathering the attention of beaux all over the surrounding areas. But when she learns the man she had been psuedo-courting, Ashley Wilkes, is marrying Melanie Hamilton from Atlanta, his cousin, she schemes to win him back. When he refuses, she immediately marries Charles Hamilton in spite. But Civil War has come to the South, and Scarlett quickly finds herself a widow, stuck in Atlanta, with a child, unable to be the pretty belle she had been a few months prior. Will Scarlett ever get Ashley? What about the strange Rhett Butler character, who is constantly tweaking her? Will Scarlett and her family survive the war?
Let me preface my review with this: I don't read a lot of historical fiction or chick lit or romance or anything. My speciality is science fiction, fantasy, and urban fantasy. However, this book absolutely, positively blew me away!
At first, I found the novel a bit slow. There were so many characters, and at first, it seemed like nothing happened. But that wasn't to last. Quickly, I became interested in Scarlett's schemes to snatch Ashley away from Melanie, all the while hating her for her bad behavior. By the end of the book, there were points were I was in near tears.
Scarlett wasn't my favorite character. She was a rude, bitter, selfish woman. But I completely understood her predicament. To the reader, she was completely honest, despising her first husband's death (and life!), her dislike of children (don't see that much in romance do we!), her dislike of women's poor station (always having to act "silly" in front of the menfolk), and taking the reigns of business to make a life of her own. So while I didn't like her, I also didn't hate her. I understood what she was trying to do and found myself rooting for her against the odds. She is a brilliantly written character, so dynamic, multifaceted and full.
Melanie Hamilton was probably my favorite character. This might seem odd as she does come off as a Mary Sue--perfect and sweet to everyone, always right, yada, yada--and I hate Mary Sues. But I really never found Melanie a Mary Sue. Scarlett repeatedly downplays Melanie's beauty. Melanie is strong-willed and works diligently, but tires easily (such as when she works at Tara in the cotton fields). Like Scarlett, Melanie was definitely not a 1-D character. She appeared weak on the outside, while maintaining strenght in the face of danger, in the face of childbirth, in the face of hard times. She was a true inspiration to me.
Rhett Butler made me so furious, sometimes I wanted to slap him like Scarlett! But other times, he was so charming and debonair, that I wanted to melt in his arms like butter. I loved how forthright he was, how practical and realistic he was, and yet how at times, his passionate nature came through (joining the Confederate army at the end, for example).
Side characters, such as Miss Pittypat, Mammy, Dilcey, Pork, Uncle Peter, Mrs. Meade, Belle Watling, and more, jumped out at me. They felt like real people, people influenced by dreams, desires, and feelings. Probably one of the sweetest moments was when Dr. and Mrs. Meade were talking and she mentioned she would rather him be at Belle's than dead. Given what Mrs. Meade had been through, what she held dear, it was particularly poignant.
I could go on endlessly about the amazing life lessons and themes and symbols in the book. Quotes about the status of women at the time, about changing with the changing times, about strength of character, about being who you are, and about what is really important in life abound in this book. Most of the ones that really touched me may be found on my profile page, though the whole book is brimming with it.
As this deals with the South during the Civil War, there is much talk of slavery; one of the reasons, I believe, it has been so frequently placed on the Banned Books list. Some people believe that it shows slavery in a favorable light, that blacks were/are children that need to be tended by whites. My opinion is this: it shows how many white Southern plantation owners viewed slaves. Not all slave owners were Mr. Simon Legree of Uncle Tom's Cabin. Conversely, not all slave owners are like the O'Hara's. Yes, there are a lot of black stereotypes (Mammy, Prissy, etc.), but this is a snapshot into the past. You can't take this book and try to force modern views of civil rights and racism into it. However, I do believe it makes a brilliant discussion piece: comparing Scarlett and other Southern whites' views of blacks with other accounts (such as Uncle Tom's Cabin or the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn).
All in all, this is a brilliant book, made more excellent by the narrator, who deftly interprets the Southern dialect and accents for the listener. I thoroughly enjoyed it and was heart-broken, but inspired, when it ended. I highly recommend, even to those, like me, who aren't big into historical fiction.