Title: The Help
Author: Kathryn Stockett
Genre: historical fiction
Length: 444 pages
Source: public library
Reason for Reading: Bookworm mentioned when she was about to read this book and she had the cover to the right in her blog post. I have to admit, the newer paperback cover was what first drew my attention. I’ve seen the cover to the left (the cover of my library copy) lots of times and just overlooked it. Because I think I never understood what the book was about until I saw the second cover. Only the cover made me read the summary, which made me really want to read the book. (Oh, and here is Bookworm’s final review post about the book.)
Book Description (from jacket):
Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.
Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.
Minny, Aibileen’s best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody’s business, but she can’t mind her tongue, so she’s lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.
Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.
My Thoughts: I am very glad to have read this book. As a work of fiction about a very controversial time in American history, this was very compelling. One thing that I admired most about Stockett is that she mentioned in her notes at the end of the book (Too Little Too Late) that she knows she doesn’t fully understand what it was like for the African-American help in white households, especially having lived on the receiving end of such help growing up. She simply states that she tried to do her best at conveying the complex relationship between white women and the African-American women who work for them. Stockett’s favorite quote of the book is this: “Wasn’t that the point of the book? For women to realize, We are just two people. Not that much separates us. Not nearly as much as I thought.” And, I have to admit, that really does summarize the book.
The fact that Aibileen, Minny, and Skeeter all had such strong voices and such different stories to tell just made the book that much stronger. The chapters are narrated by these three women interchangeably, and I think this is the first adult book I’ve read that was written in this way. Typically the “each-chapter-by-a-different-narrator” style is in young adult books, in my experience. While the relationships between the white and African-American women aren’t intimate, I loved the intimate look into their lives together. Another thing I really appreciated from Stockett was how she wrote in dialect–I think it made Aibileen’s and Minny’s perspectives that much more real.
I think this would make a great book club read. There is a lot to discuss, even if the issues are “old”–I think some of the same issues persist today.
There are a lot of passages I really loved from this book, but this one is my favorite (it’s the only part that made me tear up):
Callie begins talking slowly and I start to type…
“I worked for Miss Margaret thirty-eight years. She had her baby girl with the colic and the only thing that stopped the hurting was to hold her. So I made me a wrap. I tied her up on my waist, toted her around all day with me for an entire year. That baby like to break my back…”
She takes a sip of her tea while I type her last words…
“Miss Margaret always made me put my hair up in a rag, say she know coloreds don’t wash their hair. Counted ever piece of silver after I done the polishing. When Miss Margaret die of the lady problems thirty years later, I go to the funeral. Her husband hug me, cry on my shoulder. When it’s over, he give me a envelope. Inside a letter from Miss Margaret reading, ‘Thank you. For making my baby stop hurting. I never forgot it.’ ” (p260)
This evening I was thinking more about the book and I thought, “This would make a good drama film.” And then I happened to find out that it is going to be a movie, released this August 12th! The stills from the movie on the IMDb website for the movie make it look a little too cheery–I didn’t think the movie should be exactly dark, but that it should be a little more “serious” looking, if that makes sense.
Oh, and if you’re interested, I think that Coming of Age in Mississippi by Anne Moody is a great autobiography about an African-American girl growing up in Mississippi and getting involved in the civil rights movement there. Medgar Evers and the sit-in at the Jackson Woolworth’s are both mentioned in The Help and Anne Moody knew Evers and participated in the Jackson Woolworth’s sit in. It’s just a great non-fiction read that concerns larger issues at hand than those focused on in The Help.