The Help by Kathryn Stockett

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Title: The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Premise:

Eugenia (Skeeter) Phelan is tired of the same old life in her hometown of Jackson, Mississippi.  She dreams of becoming a writer, but her only contact at the publishing company challenges her to write about something she cares about and submit it, before she will be considered for a job.  Skeeter decides she wants to explore what it’s like to live as a black maid in the South, and seeks maids to help her complete the project, but it’s very risky.  Will she ever get enough women to agree to be interviewed to complete the book? (This is a very abbreviated version of what the novel is about.  I didn’t want to ruin the plot line for you!)

My thoughts:

I picked this book up at Wal-mart some time ago, and just now got to reading it.  Once I started reading though, I could hardly put it down!  The story was engrossing and I enjoyed getting to know the characters, though some were not so nice.  I also appreciated that it was set in a particular historical period (the Civil Rights era) and alluded to those events and that cultural environment.

Aibileen was my favorite character because of her sweet spirit and determination to overcome life’s obstacles.  She was wise and patient, insightful and nurturing.  Minny was really fun to read about, too.  Her spunk and blunt honesty were refreshing.  I also liked Skeeter, who decided to buck tradition and think for herself.  She stuck with her convictions, even when they made her unpopular and the going got tough.

I do wish we could have seen a little more development with some of the characters.  I feel like Celia could have undergone a metamorphosis, and Skeeter would have been better served having had a grand epiphany, but I’m not the author.  Though I had hoped for just a smidge more from the characters, I enjoyed seeing their progression in their thinking, relationships with one another, and their commitment to their mutual project.

Once criticism that I’ve heard about this book is that it’s impossible for the author to truly know what it was like to be a black maid in the South during that era.  (The author is white, relatively young, and not poor.)  I knew that going into the book, so I wasn’t expecting this to be a historically accurate novel in terms of character portrayal.  I think  the author did a fair job of imagining what it would be like to be a black maid during that time, and really, that’s the most we can ask of her.  So just take her portrayals with a grain of salt and don’t get bent out of shape if it’s not 100% accurate.  This issue didn’t really bother me at all, but I know that it’s a hang-up for others.

There is one thing about the book which did bother me, though.  There’s a scene where Minny and Celia are accosted by another character, in a very objectionable and yucky way, and to me, it felt very out of character with the rest of the book.  I understand how it helped the plot progress by putting the characters in the situation they were in, but I feel like the same plot progression could have been achieved in a less disgusting way.  Notice I’m not giving too many details, but if you’ve read the book, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.  It’s really not something I can discuss in polite company.

There’s another thing that happens in the novel which I don’t think is very realistic.  When Minny makes the pie for Miss Hilly, I don’t believe she would have done it as portrayed in the story.  It doesn’t jive with her character, plus people just don’t want to dabble with that stuff anyway.  Again, read the book and you’ll know what I’m referring to.

I recommend The Help to adults who enjoy period novels, particularly ones that take place during the Civil Rights era (with the caveat that there are two parts that you will probably dislike).  Though this is a fictitious account, the time period during which it takes place gives it an interesting cultural context, and helps us feel a little more about what it may have felt like to live in the South during that time.

A favorite quote:

“The next few weeks is real important for Mae Mobley.  You think on it, you probably don’t remember the first time you went to the bathroom in the toilet bowl stead of a diaper.  Probably don’t give no credit to who taught you, neither.  Never had a single baby I raise come up to me and say, Aibileen, why I sure do thank you for showing me how to go in the pot.”  (p. 126)

Possible Objections:

  • outdated and offensive racial language
  • some sexual stuff (one scene in particular is offensive)
  • some violence

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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