Book Review: The Help by Kathryn Stockett

1 Mar

So, in spite of being somewhat stifled and inspiration-less on my trip to Marco Island–I did manage to get a fair amount of reading done. I had brought with me the third and final book in the Wicked Series–but never got around to finishing it. Instead, as I wandered the island with my younger sister one day, we came upon a bookstore called Sunshine Booksellers. Of course, I had to wander in to my sister’s great displeasure.

As I poked through some of the clearance fiction racks, and meandered meaninglessly through the locally made birthday cards–I spotted it. A bright yellow paperback, brand new and perched on the Best Seller’s rack as if it were awaiting my arrival. Eagerly, I made my purchase and spent the next three days pouring over Kathryn Stockett’s, The Help.

Now, I had already previously seen the movie. (And yes, I know. That goes entirely against the unwritten rules of books versus movies.) I hadn’t even realized (shamefully enough) that The Help was a novel until after the credits on the movie were rolling, and I was sniffling my way through a box of tissues.

Now, with the time and the means to read The Help, I buried myself in the folds of it’s new book smell and continue to be glad I did so. If I took nothing else away from this powerfully written read it’s this: Be true to what you feel is right, no matter the consequences.

The Help focuses on three main characters: Skeeter, Minny and the leading lady Aibileen. What I found most wonderful about this novel and the way in which it was written, was how distinct each voice is from one another. Though Stockett gives you the courtesy of labeling each section with who will be your guiding voice–she really didn’t have to. Aibileen has a distinctly written narration, reminiscent of Huckleberry Finn. Her narration is written  primarily phonetically, but not over done to the point of being offensive to the eye. Skeeter is written in a very standard sort of style, that is easy to follow, and easy to relate to. And Minny seems a wonderful combination of both, reflecting her straight-to-the point personality. I had little to no difficulty following each narrative as they smoothly transitioned from voice to voice and moment to moment.

The story draws the reader into the times of segregation in Jackson, Mississippi. Aibileen and Minny are both black maids working for white families, while Skeeter is a young white woman trying to land herself in a writing career. Skeeter had been raised by a black maid for much of her life, by a woman very similar in station to Aibileen and Minny. As if by fate, Skeeter is drawn to Aibileen for help with a cleaning article she manages to become hired for, for the local newspaper. However, this soon blossems into a much more dangerous friendship when Skeeter begins to ask questions not proper for the time. Such as, “Do you like being a maid?” Or” How do you feel about having your own bathroom?” and hoping for a serious answer.

With the help of Aibileen, Minny and later many other black maids, Skeeter begins crafting the most scandalous novel of her time. But, what they’re doing could get them fired–or worse, killed. You are lead very different paths with these three narrators and can experience multiple sides in this hard-to-put-down novel.

Aibileen’s story, I found, was especially heart-breaking. Living alone, she cares for white babies until they are no longer “color-blind.” Moving from job to job. Her own child suffered a terrible fate, and she constantly mourns him. We follow her in raising a little white girl called, Mae Mobley or Baby Girl. The bond between the two was enough to make me tear up on more than a few occasions, as you the reader watch her raise the little girl to try to be confident in herself in an otherwise cold-hearted household.

Minny’s story is full of children, but not white children. She has a considerable amount of her own, as well as an abusive husband. Minny is not compliant and soft-mannered as Aibileen, but outspoken and fiery. Her sarcastic narration was the source of many a laugh while reading this novel. She brings the light into the story, keeping it moving when the situation gets too heavy. Even when facing a terrible situation, such as her new boss suffering from an abortion while she is working, her narration proved somewhat humorous and always human.

Skeeter’s story is one of discovery. A college graduate; she dreams of becoming a writer. While the rest of her friends are already married and having children, Skeeter is working for the local magazine. Her mother, who is gravely ill, is constantly putting pressure on her to find a husband as is “proper” for a woman at the time. Skeeter begins the journey to discover who her parents really are as seen from others eyes,how the rest of the town sees her, what romance is and what it means to love and lose, and most importantly, what the relationship between The Help and their bosses are like.

I devoured this book is three days, and would find myself reading long into the night until my eyes stung. This novel was skillfully written, beautifully narrated and well-researched. I was on the edge of my seat, worried for these women while they worked on a novel that would reveal the horrors and beauty of the relationships between the Help and their bosses.The best and the worst. What was most moving to me, was that in spite of all the odds these women faced–they did not back down. A lesson, I think, anyone could take from.

Thank goodness for reading


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