So, here I sit in a darkened room. Incense it lit and the lamp is on. My tired eyes struggle to stay awake, yet I know I have a purpose tonight.
No… I’m not doing a seance. What is this, “Now and Then”?
Nope. I’m staying up far far past my good girl bed time in order to give you The Help by Kathryn Stockett.
As we all know, The Help has been on the best sellers list for a long while now, and recently had a movie released as well–pretty much the pinnacle of an author’s success. What really amped my curiosity, however, was not it’s status on the NYT list, it was the kinds of people I caught reading it…
It should be no secret by now that I work at a bookstore. And I sell hundreds of books a day. I see them, smell them, touch them. But never has a book with such a wide-ranging readership ever crossed my path. I’ve sold this book to elderly white Southern ladies, young black hip hop kids, preppy cheerleaders, soccer moms, and the most gangster of gangsters. So that got me wondering… What is this book all about?
The Help takes place in Jackson, Mississippi during the early 1960’s, and, as we all know–the Civil Rights Movement (And yes, I just sang the MISS-ISS-IPPI song in my head to spell it right, so sue me). The 1960’s in general was not the best time to be an African American in the US, especially in the deep south like Jackson. To put this into perspective, black people were being beaten or even killed for accidentally using the wrong bathroom. For real. And to further narrow the scope, this wasn’t so long ago. Our parents were kids then, and odds are they remember some of the prejudice going on at that time. 50 years is not much in the grand scheme of things.
Some of the main characters are Miss “Skeeter,” Aibileen, and Minny. Miss Skeeter is an intelligent (but unfortunately gawky) young daughter of a plantation owner looking to find her place in a world filled with everyday injustices. She aspires to be a writer, but all her mother aspires for is Skeeter’s marriage–to somebody, anybody. For the love of God.
Yeah, it’s that kind of thing.
Aibileen and Minny are both black housemaids, although they are extraordinarily different as people. Aibileen is quiet and diligent in her work, loving nothing more than to care for the small white children in her charge, which is helping her get over the recent, violent death of her only son. Minny, on the other hand, has a handful of children of her own, doesn’t take crap, and has the mouth to prove it. But her husband beats her.
These three women’s lives are changed forever when their worlds collide, collaborating on a novel that outlines the good (and bad) things black maids experience serving white families. The town of Jackson was not prepared for what these ladies had in store!
I love love loved this book. I could not put it down. Stockett took a pretty big risk, writing from the perspective of two African American women, being–to put it bluntly–white herself. Not only that, The Help switches perspectives multiple times during the book, and the first-time author pulls it off quite seamlessly. She makes something that most writers won’t even attempt look easy.
From a reader’s perspective, I really enjoyed seeing the world from three different points of view. This fills in the gaps left by other characters and gives a nicely omnipotent feel without being unbelievable. I also liked that it wasn’t a love story. Don’t get me wrong, love is great, love is good, and all that jazz, but every once in a while you get tired of hearing it. Don’t women in novels have any other goals? And that’s what I liked about Miss Skeeter. She wasn’t made out to be this glamourous Southern debutante. She was skinny with frizzy hair and abnormally large feet. And that makes her seem more like a real person. She wanted to become a journalist, not find her Romeo, and that was refreshing.
My only critiques of the story were that I couldn’t believe Minnie put up with an abusive husband–as loud and aggressive as she was, and that I was left a bit mystified about Miss Celia and Mr Johnny’s relationship. What did he see in her? The relationships in this book seemed like odd pairings. Also, the ending left me wanting just a little bit more. Come on… one more chapter. I felt a little like yesterday’s laundry left out to dry. And Miss Hilly.
Please. please read The Help. Especially if you are young. Especially if you are old. Especially if you are black. Especially if you are white. Especially…
5 of 5 stars