Title: The Help
Author: Kathryn Stockett
Genre: Fiction, Race
Publication Date: 2009
The publisher’s summary:
Aibileen is a black maid in 1962 Jackson, Mississippi, raising her seventeenth white child. She’s always taken orders quietly, but lately it leaves her with a bitterness she can no longer bite back. Her friend Minny has certainly never held her tongue, or held on to a job for very long, but now she’s working for a newcomer with secrets that leave her speechless. And white socialite Skeeter has just returned from college with ambition and a degree but, to her mother’s lament, no husband. Normally Skeeter would find solace in Constantine, the beloved maid who raised her, but Constantine has inexplicably disappeared.
Together, these seemingly different women join to work on a project that could forever alter their destinies and the life of a small town—to write, in secret, a tell-all book about what it’s really like to work as a black maid in the white homes of the South. Despite the terrible risks that they will have to take, and the sometimes humorous boundaries they will have to cross, these three women unite with one one intention: hope for a better day.
I’d heard snatches of conversation about The Help, but I didn’t pay much attention until I saw the trailer for the film adaptation. Emma Stone is playing Skeeter, and I love that woman in anything.
I didn’t have any particular expectations going into this book — a reviewer at NPR called it “[possibly] one of the most important pieces of fiction since To Kill a Mockingbird,” though, so that definitely gave me an indication of what kind of book it was going to be.
The biggest theme in The Help is the idea of outcasts: if you don’t fit into Jackson society’s very narrow (and narrow-minded) mold of “normal,” you are viewed as less-than. Obviously Aibileen and Minny—and the other maids—are pariahs, but The Help is full of all kinds of outcasts. Skeeter is looked down on by both her friends and her mother for being an educated, single woman, and Miss Celia (Minny’s boss) is considered a boyfriend-stealing piece of white trash.
It’s for these reasons that these women band together: they can see beyond their differences, down to the similar experiences and feelings that unite them together in the idea that something is terribly wrong with the world.
There were moments of this book that were really difficult to read, and it didn’t leave me with any particularly warm feelings toward humanity. It was a great book, and an important one, I believe. I can easily see The Help becoming part of high school required reading lists, and I think the movie will be excellent (although probably different from the book in many ways).
In other words, go get your own copy. It’s worth it.
Times They Are a-Changin’ (Bob Dylan)
“Wasn’t that the point of the book? For women to realize, We are just two people. Not that much separates us. Not nearly as much as I’d thought.” (p. 492)
What’s the most difficult book you’ve ever read? Have you ever had to set a book down and take a break after reading a particularly violent, harsh, or graphic scene?