Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Book Review: The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Three ordinary women are about to take one extraordinary step. Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone. Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken. Minny, Aibileen’s best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody’s business, but she can’t mind her tongue, so she’s lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own. Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.
Review: This book tore through me from page one. I didn't really know how to react to it. I've never lived in the South nor was I alive during the 60s. I'm White and have basically lived in Utah all my life with hardly any interaction with other ethnicities. I mean, I have been around here and there...Spain, Guatemala, and Portland Oregon for a few years. So it's a perspective I haven't seen before and I could quite understand the characters' motivations. They risk so much, but why? I didn't feel the story or the characters were fleshed out as much as I would have liked.

I even headed on over to my book club without the last 15 or so pages read, including the author's note at the end. I never would have thought that something so tiny could change my whole outlook on the book. I really, really wish Kathryn Stockett placed her disclaimer at the beginning of the book rather than at the end.

Here's a bit of what she says:

The Help is fiction, by and large. Still, as I wrote it, I wondered an awful lot what my family would think of it, and what Demetrie (her maid while growing up) would have thought too, even though she was long dead. I was scared, a lot of the time, that I was crossing a terrible line, writing in the voice of a black person. I was afraid I would fail to describe a relationship that was so intensely influential in my life, so loving, so grossly stereotyped in American history and literature.

I was truly grateful to read Howell Raines's Pulitzer Prize-winning article, "Grady's Gift."

There is no trickier subject for a writer from the South than that of affection between a black person and a white one in the unequal world of segregation. For the dishonesty upon which a society is founded makes every emotion suspect, makes it impossible to know whether what flowed between two people was honest feeling or pity or pragmatism.
My feelings for The Help conflict greatly. Regarding the lines between black and white women, I am afraid I have told too much...I am afraid I have told too little. Not just that life was so much worse for many black women working in the homes in Mississippi, but also that there was so much more love between white families and black domestics than I had the ink or the time to portray.

What I am sure about is this: I don't presume to think that I know hat it really felt like to be a black woman in Mississippi, especially in the 1960s. I don't think it is something any white woman on the other of a black woman's paycheck could ever truly understand. But trying to understand is vital to our humanity.
This completely changed my whole view of the book. I see now what she was trying to get across. She never asked her maid Demetrie what it was like and she died before she could once she thought about asking. I think it is vital to TRY and understand, though, as a white person, I know I can never truly understand what it's like to be black, especially in a white society. I now feel that Kathryn Stockett was brave for writing this and now as I read through it again I will have a better understanding of where she was coming from and her motivations for her characters. Bravo! I feel this is one more step to breaking the lines of prejudice and hate.


  1. I've read so many review of The Help and yours is the first one to mention the disclaimer. Thank you. I will keep that in mind when I read the book.

  2. I listened to this, so I didn't see the disclaimer either. It was done with multiple readers and will probably end up being my favorite audio of the year!

  3. I can see why you wished the disclaimer was at the beginning. I think that would make more sense.


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