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Review: The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Submitted by on November 10, 2011 – 9:00 am10 Comments

Book: The Help
Author: Kathryn Stockett
Release: February 2009
Reviewer: Teresa
Source: Personal Library
Purchase:  - Barnes & Noble

Three ordinary women are about to take one extraordinary step.

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.

In pitch-perfect voices, Kathryn Stockett creates three extraordinary women whose determination to start a movement of their own forever changes a town, and the way women—mothers, daughters, caregivers, friends—view one another. A deeply moving novel filled with poignancy, humor, and hope, The Help is a timeless and universal story about the lines we abide by, and the ones we don’t.

The Help is a different genre of fiction than I usually read. It’s literary fiction whereas everything else is usually sci-fi, mystery, or urban fantasy or some mix of the three. And it’s taken me some time to figure out how I wanted to write my review. I looked at the negative reviews on amazon and that helped me make my decision. You may ask why it’s not because I didn’t like it, it’s because of the way they looked at the book compared to me. In this review I’m going to get a little personal because after reading those reviews, man is racism alive and well. Not that I didn’t know this, I did but all they could talk about was three things:

  1. How this historical fiction got facts wrong. I personally never felt like this was a historical fiction, and I’ll explain why when I get into the review.
  2. The dialect isn’t true to the characters, time, or South. All I wanted to say was really were you there.
  3. The writer is racist for writing this book. Seriously, she wrote this book from her memories that she had of her maid/nanny, and that makes her a racist?

Some did say the characters where one dimensional but they were looking at the book as a historical fiction trying to be a non-fiction or a book about Civil Rights. Neither of which I got out of the book or the movie for that matter. Yes, there is discussion on the Civil Rights movement but the book itself is not about the movement.

So here is my personal insight not that I have much on “the Help” or the 60’s but I do know what it’s like growing up in the South and living in a racist family. Granted when I was growing up in the South with my mom and stepdad in Texas this is not the family I’m talking about when I say my family is racist. As many people know I’m a Northern Midwesterner and Southerner how is this possible because when you have two sets of parents and they live in different states, your born and live there until you move with one set of parents and then grow up and go to school in another. My northern family, especially my grandmother would be considered a racist. And this is something I’ve learned is more about the time frame that she was born and grew up in than anything else. It’s taken me thirty-three to understand her but we all learn. Grandma was born in 1918, talk about a world in turmoil, and to add to the fodder she comes from a wealth family and is still wealth, however she doesn’t have a maid.

When I was growing up in the South I didn’t hear the “N” bomb but I did hear it when I went up to visit my family, in fact Eddie Murphy was not allowed on the T.V. at Grandma’s without the “N” bomb being said. For many years I really disliked my Grandmother, because of this language. I feared my high school graduation, and I graduated in 1996, because I wasn’t sure what she might say about my graduating class being mixed, Caucation, Africian American, and Hispanic. Thankfully she was good , other vactaions she hasn’t been.

My point when I looked at a book any book that has to deal with racism or what others might think is racist and I compare it to Grandma The Help didn’t come close to Grandma, and there were times growing up when I had to leave the room due to her remarks. Like I said above now that I’m thirty-three and truly understand what it means, well sorta to be in your nineties and to have lived through all the crap she has I get what during most of her young life that was the way things were and it’s hard to change. The South had to change, because there were the worse offenders as a whole but predjuice is everywher. And this book only touches a sliver of what that predjuice was like in Jackson, Mississippi during 1963. Because that’s not the real topic, the book is much deeper than that but yes any book that is written with in the time frame of 1963 and in Jackson, Mississippi there is going to be predjuice/racism within it’s pages. If there wasn’t any there’d be a problem.

While I’ve hit on what The Help isn’t about I should tell you what it is about. The Help is a unique creation about the life of three characters and the novel they create. It’s a little more than that but that’s the major issues. These women become friends during a time when that wasn’t done, when a white women didn’t make friends with “the help.”

And that is how an unlikely trio begins on a journey into breaking down barriers with mistrust. All three characters have their own reasons for breaking the rules some are selfish. Some are to honor the memory of the dead and some are to say look what I did, but in the end the characters move beyond their first thoughts and they create something amazing, a bond, a friendship one that not many can say they have with the help.

The Help has three POV changes and the three main characters have a unique style of speach even though all three are from the South. Two of the POV’s are from the “help’s” prespective and even their speech is different. But who are these women? That is what we learn in this book… we have Aibileen, Skeeter, and Minnie, and they are the main women we come to care about in The Help. This book tries to cross a boundry that in Jackson was very hard during the 60′s and at the being there is mistrust from the help, they knew what could happen.

Aibileen, who starts off the novel, lost her son a few years back, he was the one who originally came up with the idea to write a book about his white employers. When he passed he was in his early twenties. The same as Skeeter, when the book The Help gets written. Aibileen is very kind, soft spoken and one that would never rock the boat. She likes taking care of young children and she prays for everyone, and her prayers normally help those in need. Aibileen, is the first maid to help Skeeter with the stories about her white employers, she also helped Skeeter with her Miss Mirna column. The column was all about house cleaning and Skeeter knew Aibileen was the best at her job. Aibileen worked for Skeeter’s friend Miss Elizabeth, but while they wrote the book she was always scared that Miss Elizabeth would find out and hire her or worse. Yet she is willing to take that chance to see this dream come true.

Skeeter is our only caucasion POV that is considered good though even she has moments where her young age shows and her wealthly up bringing comes out. She’s trying to change but some times she puts her foot in her mouth. Skeeter wants to be a writer, unlike her friends, she doesn’t want to just find a man and get married, now that she’s back from college, she wants to do something more with her life. When she gets a response letter from a New York editor telling her to write about things around her that move her, she sees many things. It took some time but she found the prefect thing. She just needs a little help, as it turns out the help of thirteen other people. Skeeter becomes their voice, since they aren’t able to have one. Though we don’t get to read what the others say, so don’t except to read all thirteen maids stories. You get a sense that some of the stories are sweet and some not so sweet. Some of the maids come clean about their relastionships with thier employers and its not always pleasant, yet there are some relationships that show the caring nature between the help and employers. Ones that the employer never knew mattered to the help and thanks to Skeeter her old friends were able to learn about the love and concern there is between them.

The last POV we have is Minnie, she is the strong black woman in the book. She’s also very sassy and speaks her mind, no matter who she’s speaking too. Minnie is Aibileen’s best friend and she tries many times to get her to stop working on the book with Skeeter once Aibileen decides to go for it. It’s not just that Minnie is scared for Aibileen, she also doesn’t like white people. She doesn’t think whites and colors should share information become friends, because her mother told her it was wrong. Plus Skeeter was/had been friends with Miss Elizabeth, Aibileen’s boss, and Miss Hilly, the daughter of Minnie’s former boss. Miss Hilly is evil and fires Minnie for no cause. But Minnie gets back at Hilly in a way that she doesn’t like to talk about until the end of the book. Hilly to try to get Minnie to work for her and after the “evil” thing that Minnie does to get back at Hilly puts her own mother in the old Lady’s home. Hilly then makes sure no one in town will hire Minnie after that. However with Aibileen’s help Minnie is able to find another job with the one person Hilly won’t talk too and the only “true” strong white character in the book Miss Celia.

Miss Celia and Minnie are the perfect pair of strong women getting put together in the book. Because you learn that a truly strong woman isn’t strong all the time and sometimes you need help in the most unlikely places. Celia and Minnie are just that an unlikely pair that work great.

Skeeter and Aibileen get a rhythm going during some scenes where you see Aibileen’s strength, instead of her shyness and it’s a wonderful sight. Those are times when you know she is seeing Skeeter and her son as one and writing the ook in his memory. During those times you also see growth in Skeeter, because these women are becoming more than just “the help” they are becoming her friends as she is pulling away from everything she was brought up to believe in from her parents. But not the love that her maid/nanny gave her. And that’s her driving force, she wants to learn the truth about what happend to Constaintine, the woman who loved and raised her, but is gone before she gets home from college and no one will tell her the truth. Aibileen, feels for Skeeter, and finally tells her what she’s been wanting to know. This is a big break through for these two characters and shows how close they become.

FYI’S: The dialect issues, both Aibileen and Minnie use Southern African American, let me rephrase that, they use Southern Jackson, Mississippi dialect. Skeeter may or may not, so some people may have issues reading it but if you’ve ever read Mark Twain, you’re good.

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  • says:

    I kept wanting more of an ending from this book. I realized that it ended up okay but kept looking for more :) it was an okay story and glad In finally read a book that my friends were talking about.

    Reply to this comment »
    • Sorry the book didn’t have the ending you wanted, I think the only other ending it could of had was for one of the maid to get killed and that wouldn’t have been any fun. Then they would have put it in the horror section. ;) “The Help” does get a lot of mixed reviews which is why I put my personal info in this review. I think seeing the movie and then reading the book was a good thing for me it put the book in context. And the movie does stay pretty true to the book unlike most books to movies where things don’t follow or stay true, this one did. And believe me I normally never say watch the movie and read the book. ;)

      Reply to this comment »
    • Doll Noa says:

      Julie – I’m right there with you. I felt very much as if I “missed something” when I finished the book. I needed closure :D

      I also found myself a bit annoyed with the fact that Stockett uses the same stereotypes she is trying to come out against… It was a book that I found interesting and to a certain level, couldn’t wait to finish, only to find out I didn’t get my ‘finish’

      Reply to this comment »
  • Believer9200 says:

    Hi Teresa! This book was not my favorite. Many times the voices just didn’t ring true and the characters were written with such broad strokes. I also agree that the ending left me feeling unfulfilled. One small detail that still rankles me is that Skeeter doesn’t seem very concerned by her mother’s fight with cancer. IT was not a case of the character being stoic in the face of a terrible event but seemed instead to be treated like a casual side note. But she sure did write several memorable scenes. I have not scene the movie and in fact listened to this as a book on CD and the narrators were wonderful.

    Reply to this comment »
    • Believer9200, I’m sorry that you didn’t enjoy the book.

      I actually didn’t get the feeling that Skeeter was unconcerned about her mother’s fight with cancer, but that her mother was trying to make seem like it was no big deal, Skeeter didn’t know her mother had cancer for the longest time. During the year that my father was battling cancer he would do the same thing so that the family wouldn’t worry, and when it came down to his last month at the end of May and beginning of June I made sure he saw me writing because he always asked about my writing. I guess what I’m saying is as children we play parts when are parents are dieing and its not good or bad, but we don’t want them to suffer more than they are so we do it to make them happy and I think that was what Skeeter was doing. Making things seem like everything was fine even though she knew they weren’t because that’s how her mother wanted them to be.

      Reply to this comment »
  • [...] 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. Read her review Here. [...]

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