Friday, June 19, 2009
Review: The Help
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Reasons for reading: Maggie's endorsement at Maggie Reads; first book for the Southern Reading Challenge 2009
Description: "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."
My thoughts: I really enjoyed the 3 narrators - sometimes that device can be annoying, but Aibileen, Skeeter, and Minny's voices were all very different and all well done. Also, dialect is sometimes annoying to see written down, but Aibileen and Minny's suited them well and weren't written in an awkward way. There's so much in this book - hatred, love, affection, sadness, hope, humour, warmth... It's a really interesting portrait of a time when change was starting to come.
I found the disconnect in the white Southerners' minds quite astonishing- how can black women be good enough to raise white women's children, cook their food, and clean their houses, but they can't use the same toilet or cutlery? They can't shop at the white grocery store unless they're shopping for their employers, yet aren't they just as black in their uniform as out of it? They think of black people as dirty, yet have no problem with them feeding, bathing, and holding their children? The way people can justify things like in their minds that is incredible.
I also liked that Stockett showed the affection between black women and the children they look after and sometimes even the older women whose lives they're much more involved in than those ladies would like to admit. Some employers are actually very kind, some are cruel, some are just stupid.
I don't want to give much away, but there are parts that made me laugh, made me want to cheer, made me angry, and made me sad. It's a great read.
The verdict: I agree with the author that these are some of the best lines in the book and I think they sum it up well: "We are just two people. Not that much separates us. Not nearly as much as I'd thought."