Monday, February 09, 2009

The Help: a novel by Kathryn Stockett

"It's so hard to get good help these days!" I've never actually heard anyone say that in my middle class life, but at one time many families had hired help. In the American South, white families often hired black women to clean their homes and care for their children. The Help is their story.

Aibileen and Minny are African American women who don their white aprons and orthopedic uniform shoes and head to work in white women's homes. Living in Jackson, Mississippi, at the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement, societal changes touch them directly at times: "...we sit anywhere we wants to (on the bus) thanks to Miss Parks..." In the big picture, however, racism still rules in Jackson. Servants use the back door seems mild when Minny's boss starts an initiative for...well, readers may be shocked at her proposed legislation.

Skeeter, the third major character, is a young white woman daring to question the status quo. In her quest to become a successful writer, she interviews many black maids in her city. She takes risks by breaking the mold, refusing to chase after the M.R.S. degree so many of her friends earned in college, actively pursuing a career in journalism instead. The risks she faces, however, are miniscule compared to the women who participate in her interviews.

These women could lose their jobs, become unemployable in their city, even lose their homes if their white landlords get word that they're causing trouble. After an activist is murdered in front of his home and a young man beaten blind for using a "whites only" bathroom, they feel justifiably nervous. But when Skeeter visits Aibileen and Minny to mourn for their losses, they and the other maids decide it's time to take action despite the danger. It's not an easy road, nor is the ending exactly expected, and that's what will keep the readers involved until the very last chapter.

Author Kathryn Stockett faced a major challenge in putting herself in the shoes of the maid. Stockett is white, and her family employed a black maid when she was a child. It took a leap of faith to write first person accounts of black women in the early '60s Mississippi, and she convincingly created each character.

The format isn't my favorite: a first person point of view that alternates between characters. I feel that that Stockett could have established the story as well in a third person omniscient. Perhaps she felt the intimacy required taking on the voice of each main character, one by one. This is merely a personal preference; she handled the format smoothly. It did not interfere with my enjoyment of the story.

I received an advance copy of The Help from Mothertalk in order to write this review. I plan to pass it on to friends; Mom, would you like to be first?


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Blogger Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

Hmmm...we're always looking for good books at my book club--this might be one we choose!

2/09/2009 11:22 AM  
Anonymous becky said...

This is the book for your club... My club read it and we have invited her via the phone to help us discuss it! THat's tonight! Great book

6/11/2009 2:08 PM  

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