Monday, August 24, 2009

Review: The Help by Kathryn Stockett

 It's been a long time since I had a hard time expressing in words how I feel about a book. I have written a review for The Help several times already, and each one simply doesn't seem adequate. Either it's too sappy, too cheesy, or too long. Let's hope the third time's a charm.

For a novel with such a deep message and sensitive subject matter, it was very readable. The story is told from three points of view, each with her own voice, and each so well done that you couldn't help but empathize with all three characters.

Skeeter is a 22 year old woman returning home from college, and has dreams of becoming a writer. Her mother, on the other hand, has dreams of her awkward daughter marrying well. Aibleen is a black maid whose specialty is raising white children, even though it breaks her heart when it comes time for her to leave them. She swallows her pride, and pushes her anger down deep often answering with a simple, "Yes, ma'am." Finally, Minny, is also a black maid and Aibleen's best friend. She's tough, she's sassy, and she often loses her jobs because she can't seem to keep her mouth shut. All three women have something to say about Mississippi in 1963...

...1963, a time and place that sees the first black man at Ole Miss, the first color television set, Dr. King had a Dream, rockets were sent into outer space, and a boy gets beaten to blindness with a tire iron for accidentally using the white bathroom. Back in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1963, there were rules to be followed and lines that weren't crossed, or people were punished. Miss Skeeter says, "I'm tired of the rules." Thus begins the partnership between Skeeter, Aibleen, and Minny.

When a neighbor asked me what I was reading last week, I told her I was reading The Help, and I didn't expect it to be so beautiful. The first chapter I read from Aibleen's point of view was difficult at first, since I am a Yankee from the North in 2009, not a Southern Black woman living as hired help in 1963. But once I forced myself to slow down and HEAR the words, it was like listening to music.

As heavy as the subject of race relations can be, Kathryn Stockett managed to keep parts of the story light, and more than once I found myself smiling while reading the book. Throughout the book, Skeeter was trying to quit smoking. She says,

"I'm trying not to smoke, but I'm nervous about tonight. Mother's been nagging me about my smoking and I know I should stop, but it's not like it's going to kill me."

Ah, how perspective can be a funny and tragic thing...

I am still amazed that The Help is Kathryn Stockett's first novel. I'm really looking forward to seeing what she has in store for us in the future!

The Help is one of my top five favorite books of 2009, and quite possibly one of my favorite books of all time.

Many thanks to Judi for telling me to read this book.

Visit Kathryn Stockett's website for a complete synopsis and reader's guide.

To order this book, please click on the title above, or go to the IndieBound link at your left.

*Disclosure: A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.


booktumbling said...

Wow, what a great review. Third time must be a charm. Hearing the words when reading is soooo important. I have had the same experience, not too sure about a book when I first start but then start to hear the story in my head. It makes a difference!

Jessica said...

I listened to the audiobook version, and that made all the difference. Hearing this book read by Southern, African American women added an entirely different dimension to an already profound and moving piece of literature!

Stephanie said...

I too absolutely LOVED THe Help (I've also reviewed it but haven't published the review yet).
By the way, I stopped by the Clinton Book Store yesterday and your name came up! You must shop there pretty often!! :)

Alison (Alison's Book Marks) said...

Booktumbling and Jessica: I did a search and found a video on You Tube of Kathryn Stockett and Octavia Spenser reading The Help at Warwick Books in California. If this is the actress that reads for Minnie and Aibleen, what a great audiobook this must be!

Stephanie: Put up your review! I can't wait to read it. Yes, I shop there often, and get great advice from them on reading and blogging. I almost went in yesterday (I had a book order come in). Let me know next time you're there!

Micaella Lopez said...

Stockett creates memorable, three-dimensional characters, set in a particularly volatile period in American history. Obviously, there were no easy answers or solutions for anyone. Yet, even in the darkest of situations, there always seemed to be individuals trying to make a difference, even in the tiniest of ways.
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