Monday, January 6, 2014
A Review of 'The Help' by Kathryn Stockett
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.
In pitch-perfect voices, Kathryn Stockett creates three extraordinary women whose determination to start a movement of their own forever changes a town, and the way women-- mothers, daughters, caregivers, friends-- view one another. A deeply moving novel filled with poignancy, humor, and hope, The Help is a timeless and universal story about the lines we abide by, and the ones we don't."
I'm inspired to read more about the Southern U.S. during the Civil Rights movement. This is an amazing book, but it has only whet my appetite.
No character is like the other. They each have their own individual voices. They are charming, they are strong, smart women. They each have skills that another character doesn't have. Aibileen is one of the help that is more nurturing to the white children of the house than anyone else. Minny is an amazing cook-- no one tops her pies and cakes! But she also has an awful mouth on her sometimes... Of the society ladies, Hilly Holbrook is the powerhouse of the group, telling everyone what to do (including firing maids that she didn't hire and getting husbands to fire family members of their maids) and still managing to keep up a somewhat high-class and genteel facade. That's what scares me. She's a bomb waiting to go off. Elizabeth never knows what to do-- she doesn't know how to connect with or take care of her children, she doesn't know
It was really great to read about sort of the other side of what was going on during this time. There are mentions of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech, sit-ins, Kennedy's assassination, but these events aren't the center of the book. Kathryn Stockett is more focused on the interactions between the Help and the society ladies they work for. It was wonderful to hear positive stories. Some of the ladies were generous enough to help the maids send their children to college, help them get a car, and some just made a connection with the children or the society ladies that some couldn't make. But of course there are issues that this part of the time period dealt with. Unfair pay, the fear of losing a job forever if they screw up and tick off the lady they work for enough, the fear of not being able to take care of the family for the reason mentioned before... there is this fear, and that's the scariest part of this time. No one knows what the "other side" is capable of. The maids have more power than they think they do but the society ladies have too much power and they know how to effectively use it, especially if you're Hilly Holbrook.
This book gives a really powerful insight into what life was like for those who lived during the Civil Rights movement, whether they were black or white. I really appreciate that the book emphasizes that there is an imaginary difference between everyone. There are lines that we draw for ourselves, but they only exist as long as we tell them they exist.
This is a book I would love to teach someday.
I give 'The Help':