Recent Read: The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

I read this book in February/early March, but once again, I've procrastinated writing about it. I have no idea why I do that, because it's always harder to remember everything when I let too much time pass.

The Help explores the culture of Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960s. Most white households--even middle class families--have African American maids. In an era of impending change, the white women are working hard to keep segregation intact; the black maids are beginning to push boundaries and fight for their rights.

The story is told from three different points of view. There are two African American maids, Aibileen and Minnie, and one white woman, Skeeter. When I first started reading the book, I'll admit that I was a bit put off by the first couple of chapters. Aibileen's chapters are written in her dialect, as if you're hearing the thoughts in her head--and some of the English is broken. I found it difficult to get through, but I found that once I was into the book, I adjusted and barely noticed.

Skeeter is a recent graduate of Ole Miss, and she has returned home from college to live with her parents. Her mother wants to marry her off, but Skeeter longs to find a respectable career as a writer. She lands a job at the local newspaper, writing a column about housekeeping, but her dream is to be a writer in New York City. In order to reach this goal, she sets out to write about a subject that means something. Ultimately, she decides to tell the stories of black maids, inspired by the one who worked for her family and raised her. Skeeter's friends are the young, married housewives who employ these maids, so she must interview and write in secret. In order to do so, she turns to Aibileen and Minnie.

Aibileen and Minnie's chapters center around their experiences working for white women: cleaning their houses, running their errands, doing their cooking, raising their children. Although the risks are unmeasurable, they decide they want to tell their stories, so they agree to team up with Skeeter to write her book--but not without some drama along the way.

I was really entertained by The Help and read it very quickly. It kept me turning the pages. One thing that really bothered me, though, was that I felt like the story never came to a peak. The author implies that something really big is going to happen, and then... it never does. I found that I was most interested in some of the secondary storylines, and the day-to-day happenings of the characters, as opposed to the whole point of the book. I also wasn't ready for it to end--it seemed like there should've been more to the story.

In the end, although I can't say I was blown away by the book, or that it left a lasting impression on me, I certainly enjoyed it. It's worth reading. The topic is heavy, and civil rights isn't an issue I would treat lightly, so I felt like the author could've done a better job with it. I find it really interesting that the author, a white woman, chose to write a book written from the perspective of black maids. I found myself wondering how much of her writing was based on fact/real accounts from black women, and how much she simply assumed based on her experiences being raised by one.

3 comments:

Natalie April 16, 2010 at 10:44 AM  

This is on our book club list for one of the upcoming months. My sister just brought it over last night so I plan to start it soon. Thanks for the great review :)

Life of a Doctor's Wife April 17, 2010 at 4:15 PM  

I agree that I wasn't blown away by this one... It was good - engaging enough that I read it pretty much straight through. The subject matter was interesting. The characters were likable (or despicable). But there was something I can't quite put my finger on that made it seem a little... easy somehow.

Glad I'm not the only one who didn't think it was the cat's meow. Everyone else who's read it seems to love it to pieces.

Just did a review on my blog of a book that DID blow me away. http://lifeofadoctorswife.wordpress.com/2010/04/16/book-review-little-bee-by-chris-cleave/

Bailey May 31, 2011 at 9:08 PM  

I hear they're making this into a movie to come out later this year - Fall 2011. I wonder how it will be adapted to film? I generally don't like the movie version, but I'm curious to see this one.

I liked the book, but I agree with the other comments as well.

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