Wednesday, March 2, 2011
The Help: Kathryn Stockett
I lost count of how many people recommended this book to me. It was a best-seller and every book blogger was reading it. I bought it, and then let it collect some dust on my bookshelf while I read some other things. I finally decided to pick up The Help and see what all the fuss was about. Now that I've finished reading, I can safely say that it was worth all the hype.
The Help is narrated by three women-- Skeeter, the liberal white woman who doesn't quite fit the conservative mold that her mother is pushing; Aibileen, the backbone of the black maid community who has raised more white children than black; and Minny, the sassy young maid who has had the most trouble with the privileged white ladies of Jackson, Mississippi. Each of the narrators takes their turn moving the story forward, from the beginning when we learn that Aibileen is a servant in the home of Miss Leefolt, through to the publication of Miss Skeeter's controversial book. The Help is the story of Skeeter's efforts to interview working black women to write a book about the servants who create the homes of her friends. She is inspired to write their stories because of her curiosity about the mysterious disappearance of her own maid, Constantine. With the assistance of Aibileen, Skeeter gathers the heartwarming--and sometimes heart-wrenching--stories of black servants in Jackson, Mississippi during the Civil Rights Movement. Through the narrations we learn about the women as individuals as well as the culture and society they live in.
To deduce this novel's characters to just three women is misleading. There are dozens of characters in this novel, each with his or her own personality, and a few fantastic one-liners. Each woman that Skeeter interviews is an important individual with an enlightening story to tell. Even the husbands of the affluent women that the maids serve, play an important role to illustrate the make up of the average home. The very servants who were considered less than human, were the people who kept the children dressed and fed, and the house running smoothly.
Writing this review was daunting because there is no easy way to describe it; The Help is harsh, emotional, uplifting, hopeful, frightening, sweet, and politically charged. It is a contemporary novel, but it's also a very important piece of historical fiction, well-suited to any American History classroom. There are things I could nitpick over, but it would be a disservice to this well-crafted debut from Kathryn Stockett.