June 28, 2010

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Date Started: June 25, 2010
Date Finished: June 27, 2010

Summary: Aibileen has been a caretaker for seventeen white children, but found that something inside her changed after her son, Treelore, died only a few years ago. Minny is a sassy Black maid who is known for her cooking, but also for her smart mouth. Because of her reputation, it is hard for her to find a job. She does find a job with an eccentric woman who is hiding a secret. Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan has just graduated from college instead of getting married like her friends, Hilly and Elizabeth. Her mother is pushing her to get married, but Skeeter wants something more. When she gets a job writing for a house keeping column, she finds herself seeking the advice of Aibileen. Skeeter wants to change things and she and Aibileen decide to tell their stories. Skeeter is looking for her old maid Constantine and Aibileen tells her story of working for white families. Minny makes the ultimate sacrifice by telling a Terrible Awful story to keep the identities of the women secret.

Likes: Every section ended on a cliff hanger. The tension was successfully carried during the whole novel and there wasn't not a moment that went by where I wasn't thinking "What's going to happen to them? What are the consequences of their actions?" I loved the interaction between Aibileen and Mae Mobley, I felt it was very authentic and believable. I liked that Skeeter was an independent free thinker and was an honest good person. Minny was awesome and the things she did was disgusting, but bold. I liked all of the characters, even the ones we weren't supposed to like. They were written so vividly that when you disliked someone, you really disliked them and when you loved them, you really rooted for them to  succeed, in whatever measure of success one could have in 1960's in Mississippi. (you'll know what I mean when you read the ending). The author admits that the story is a lot complex than she could address, but I enjoyed her take on it. I also liked her own personal experience at the end with her Black maid. Her story seems to parallel that of Skeeter's story.

Dislikes: There wasn't much that I didn't like. I had to get used to the diction in Minny and Aibileen's sections, but after a while it seems more natural. I hated Hilly, but it's unfortunate that there are actually people as ridiculous as she is (I've met a few of them in my lifetime). 

Overall: I was a little skeptical about this story. Before I was more aware of racial aspects in stories, it probably wouldn't have made a difference. This is a case of someone getting it right without relying on stereotypes and making the characters multi-dimensional. Now that I'm more aware, I wonder if this novel were written by an African American author would it receive as much buzz as this novel has gotten. Not to say that the buzz is unwarranted, this was an amazingly compelling novel. I had trouble putting it down, but I had to eat and sleep, even if I fought it just to read the novel. It's rare to read a novel so compelling. It's just an interesting question that has no answer.

Recommended by: I'm not sure where I heard about this, but this has been on my waiting list since last year. The book was just now available for checking out and it's overdue by a few days, so my library fines are probably about 15 dollars at this point. 

Acquired: Riverside Public Library


Meredith said...

Thanks, Najela. I've wanted to read this one and enjoyed your review, so now I'll probably pick it up.

But 15 dollars! What kind of library fines are those? That's insane. I can't remember the last time I paid more than a dollar for an overdue book...

Najela said...

I hope you enjoy it.

I had about 8-10 books out at a time and forgot to renew them so when I turned them in I still hadn't paid off the old fines so they just accumulated.

MissAttitude said...

I'm glad you read this one and that you really liked it! I agree, every section was a cliffhanger. I kept telling myself I could stop after 2 more chapters... but I never could :) And it's being made into a movie, I'm nervous about that. Hopefully it will be just as awesome or come close.

I think people will continue to debate The Help's success. Check out Bernice McFadden's WashPost article: Seg-Book-Gation

Downside of the library=fines

Najela said...

Spielberg is directing it from what I read in the article (thanks for the rec btw), so I think he directed The Color Purple and I liked that movie well enough (I haven't finished reading the book I think... It was back in high school)

I think the success of The Help is warranted, but it's definitely something to think about. I wonder what the point of segregating books is(well I know the point, but I mean you'd think writing/publishing would be colorblind as far as authors are concerned), most readers let the writing stand alone.

I'm always getting fines, it's so not awesome, but library's got to make money somehow. I'll just consider it a generous donation. lol.

MissAttitude said...

I need to read the Color Purple, I've heard mixed reviews of the movie.

I guess the point of an AA section would be that some AAs only want to read books by African Americans. I know a family who used to only let their kids play with AA dolls, read AA books, watch shows with AA main characters, etc. It's an intriguing idea but I think ultimately, detrimental.

Generous donation, good attitude! haha

Najela said...

It's kind of hard to get through the book because of the grammar and spelling. It's a bit like Precious (or Push) in that sense. I have seen the movie in a long while, so I might have to watch it again with a more critical eye.

True. My mom used to only buy me AA dolls and stuff, but that's because I grew up in a de facto racist white town, so as a kid you kind to need to see yourself in a positive light. I can understand it being detrimental though, especially if you aren't in a multicultural environment. It can be like a culture shock, since the real world doesn't operate that way.

That's pretty much the only way I can look at it. Sometimes it takes me so long to just read a small book that I can't calculate how much time I need to read everything. lol


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