Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Genre: Fiction
Publisher, Year: Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam, 2009
Other Works: Debut
Flags: Moderate language, Adult themes
Rating: A, or Great Read
Premise: A young college grad collects stories from black maids working in 1960s Mississippi. As she tries to work on the sly, conflicts arise.

This was a book club pick, and I was able to get it read right before the movie came out. I actually got the book at our Christmas party, so it was ready and waiting for me in hardback, which I rarely buy.

Skeeter, a level-headed girl who doesn’t quite fit in, returns home after graduating college. Even though her mother hounds her to get married and her friends seem interested in little else besides their families and the goings-on in their small southern town, Skeeter wants to be a “serious” writer. When she learns that her beloved maid has mysteriously quit without a word, she decides to look into it and finds inspiration. She decides to give the black maids in her town the chance to speak their minds and see their stories in writing. But as she works with the maids and tries to stealthily find a way to publish the book, racial tensions mount.

I quite liked this book. Although it wasn’t a page turner for me, I really fell in love with the characters, especially the two main maids, Aibileen and Minny. Aibileen is a simple and wise woman. She’s experienced her own personal tragedies, which although difficult, have solidified her trust in God and her belief in herself. She’s a courageous, yet loving woman. Where Aibileen is quiet, Minny is loud. They are opposites in many ways. Although Minny knows how to speak her mind, she is still ruled over by a drunken husband, who finds a way to take out his frustration on her. She’s the no nonsense sort, though she considers consequences, weighs their importance, and always sticks her neck out for those she trusts and cares for. For me, the topic of racial inequality holds so much suffering that Minny provided a level of vengeance that I found satisfying.

The only complaint I could have is a sort of perpetuation of the white savior attitude. But with this book, it’s hard to determine if it was intentional, or if that idea even fits as it does with other books and movies. The black characters are given a voice only through Skeeter, a white woman. However, she doesn’t doctor what they say or editorialize. Other than wanting their stories to be heard and wishing she could live in an equal world, I don’t know that she’s really swooping in to save the day. However, the maids are still maids, while Skeeter is trying to make a name for herself (in a way) through their sacrifice. And although the situation for Skeeter is uncomfortable, it’s nothing in comparison to what the maids have to fear. It’s just something that didn’t quite sit right with me.

This book has many narrators, which I think can sometimes be a mistake. But Stockett was able to create very different voices with each of the characters, so that each was distinctly recognizable. I really admire that ability and find it to be rare. The writing was very polished and felt true to life. Although I didn’t live through the time of civil rights, I felt I could relate to the characters and their experiences. Their voices resonated with me, each in a different way. Overall, a good experience.

1 comment:

Wendy Darling said...

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this, too. I loved the humor, and it made me a little emotional a few times, too. nicely reviewed!