Sunday, August 28, 2011

Review: The Help, by Kathryn Stockett

Reviewed by Christina

Published: 2009

It's about: In 1962, the women of Jackson, Mississippi are constrained by their racially-dictated societal roles. The Help is told from three rotating points of view: Skeeter, the 22-year-old aspiring writer, raised in Jackson by her family's beloved black maid; Aibileen, the middle-aged saint who works as a maid for Skeeter's friend; And Minny, Aibileen's sassy best friend who is also a maid.
The three collaborate with several other local maids in an extremely risky project, while also navigating the drama of catty society ladies and the dangers of pre-Civil Rights Mississippi.

I thought: I was hesitant to start reading this one, since everyone and their mom (seriously) has read it and raved about it. I was worried I wouldn't like it, and I didn't want to be the killjoy who hated everyone's favorite book. So it was a weird feeling, letting myself like it once I was a few chapters in. I can definitely see why The Help is so overwhelmingly popular. It's so easy to read and yet it feels subversive, too, exposing one of those nasty parts of the American past that we all want to forget about. As my Aunt Cheryl put it in her goodreads review:
This book is very easy to read (4th grade reading level) and I found myself rather wrapped up in the characters' lives--a bit like a soap opera set in the south in the 1960's.
Word. There is a lot of gossip and betrayal and backbiting in this book. It's irresistible reading material. And at the same time, I felt I was learning about something important that I don't consider often enough- Segregation. The Help made it seem like it didn't happen so long ago after all, despite how far we've come since the 60's. And the whole time I kept humming "Here's to the State of Mississippi."

Is this the greatest book ever? No. But I enjoyed it and I'm glad it's popular. I can't wait to see the movie. And I gotta give Ms. Stockett a shout-out for writing from two black ladies' points of view. I'm sure she's gotten some "How Dare You" letters, but I thought she did a stand-up job.

Verdict: Stick it on the shelf!

Reading Recommendations: It goes by quickly! Great for a plane ride or the beach.

Warnings: Some language, some violence, some disturbing subject matter, one scene with an obscene naked prowler.

Favorite excerpts:"Oh, it was delicious to have someone to keep secrets with. If I'd had a sister or a brother closer in age, I guessed that's what it would be like. But it wasn't just smoking or skirting around Mother. It was having someone look at you after your mother has nearly fretted herself to death because you are freakishly tall and frizzy and odd. Someone whose eyes simply said, without words, You are fine with me."

What I'm reading next: The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery