Overall Impression: A leisurely walk through history with some strikingly memorable characters.
This is another book I never really planned to read because it seemed impossible that it could live up to the insane hype around it. Its chick-lit-esk cover also confused me somewhat, why was a book dealing with important issues masquerading around in such a way? It seemed like an odd mix. Although I felt this way, I thought it would appeal to a member of my family so I suggested it as a Christmas gift for her. She read it, enjoyed it and then passed it on to me due to my reputation as a woman who adopts all unwanted books to look after, lol!
With the positive comments from all of you echoing in my ear I with much trepidation opened the first page to discover a tale of courage and hardship in the deep south.
I also just realised that I can use this as my last book for the 2012 Eclectic Reader Challenge. Huzzar, it is complete – some 5 months late but COMPLETE. WOO!
Enter a vanished world: Jackson, Mississippi, 1962. Where black maids raise white children, but aren’t trusted not to steal the silver…
There’s Aibileen, raising her seventeenth white child and nursing the hurt caused by her own son’s tragic death; Minny, whose cooking is nearly as sassy as her tongue; and white Miss Skeeter, home from college, who wants to know why her beloved maid has disappeared.
Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny. No one would believe they’d be friends; fewer still would tolerate it. But as each woman finds the courage to cross boundaries, they come to depend and rely upon one another. Each is in search of a truth. And together they have an extraordinary story to tell…
The Help switches between three main perspectives for its duration Aibileen, Minny and Miss Skeeter. Aibileen is a black maid who specializes in taking care of children, her current commitment is Mae Mobley, a child desperate for her mothers approval receiving only agitated looks and scolding in return. Because of this and the recent death of Aibileen’s son, she becomes more attached to the child than normal but can’t help feeling dread in her gut, knowing that one day Mae Mobley will grow up and fall prey to prejudices. Can she convince her that black is just a colour?
Meanwhile Minny, another black maid with some serious attitude and a love of answering back gets fired from her job for ‘stealing.’ As a last resort she finds herself employed by a strange woman who spends every day sitting inside on her bed. Will Minny ever understand the mystery behind her strange behaviour?
In contrast a white woman named Skeeter struggles and fails to live up to her mothers expectations of the perfect southern woman. She is haunted by the mystery of her disappearing childhood maid and cannot get rid of the nagging feeling that the help are mistreated. She comes up with the idea of writing a book on the help, but will she be able to convince any of them to talk to her?
This is such a beautiful book and I think the main source of this is the writing. From page one you feel completely immersed in Jackson Mississippi’s past. Stockett’s prose are silky smooth and so pleasant to read, I’m not even sure how to describe it but it made me think of all the things I like – tea, family and the rays of the sun illuminating everything in summer causing me to feel all warm and fuzzy inside. The southern accents of the maids only added to this as I have a huge love of the southern drawl, and the use of it in The Help made the characters feel so tangible and real. I cannot say whether the voices were realistic or representative of the time because I have no specialist knowledge, but they did feel genuine and consistent which is what’s most important I think. There were a few places where her lighthearted tone didn’t always sit well with me, specifically in sections reporting death or harm due to racism, but for the most part I loved it.
I found it interesting on reaching the end of the book that the story was heavily based on some of the authors personal experiences, I know there has been controversy over the idea of someone white writing about black rights (which I won’t go into in depth here as there are others far more knowledgeable on the subject) but the author explains her own reasons for writing The Help very eloquently and this really added to my overall thoughts on the story.
It is true that this is not a very plot driven novel, its focus feels far more centered around the characters which can be a good or bad thing depending on your viewpoint. Within the first fifth of the book the entire storyline has been set up; Skeeter starts trying to convince maids to be interviewed for her book, Aibileen struggles with her desire for change and Minny finds a job with a white woman and spends her time wondering why she acts so strangely. Although I enjoyed its entirety I did feel like it dragged in a few places getting slightly repetitive. For a while each time I picked it up I felt like it was a repeat of what I had read previously, trying to get maids for interviews, a bit of internal angst, some cooking, some babysitting and a bit of wondering done by Minny but this could have just felt more obvious to me because I am a slow reader.
I loved that Stockett decided to focus not only on black rights in her book but also those of women in general during the time period, this was a great idea that helped give the book more variety. However, at the same time I felt in doing this she slightly neglected the male point of view. There is a little commentary in there, but not as much as I would like. I know the authors idea was to focus on women’s views but at the same time it would have been fun to explore some male ones too. I thought their lives were presented as slightly too simple. I know they were the better off of the two sexes in the time period but that does not mean they didn’t suffer with other issues when trying to live up to the expectations of how a southern man should be.
My other slight criticism is that everything ran a little too smoothly in the grand scheme of things. The author seemed to skirt over the more serious side of black rights and the consequences of those who tried to stand up for them. There are several incidents mentioned in the book that should be horrifying, but instead they are glossed over and the focus remains on Skeeter’s book. This may be because it was not what the author wanted the focus on but at times I did find it slightly unsettling that it was so pleasant reading about such a horrible subject!
I fell in love with many of the characters in The Help, but my favourite by far was Aibileen. She had so much integrity coming across as the most individual voice for me. She had such a big heart and was always a source of support, intelligence and wisdom for many of the other characters. I felt fiercely protective of her throughout the novel and scenes she had child-minding Mae Mobley always made my eyes glisten whether with happiness, sadness or just the cuteness of the two of them interacting. Minny was a nice contrast to Aibileen in every way with her inability to keep quiet concerning her employers business not letting others beat out the fierce fire burning within her. I appreciated Miss Skeeter (Question, does anyone else picture that horrible woman from Harry Potter every time they read that name?) but I didn’t enjoy reading about her as much as the others for some reason, I guess she felt less unique in comparison to the other main characters. Hilary, Elizabeth and Celia as homeowners all approach dealing with their help differently so they made intriguing characters too as how they treated their inferiors reflected on them as individuals.
The Help was a great change from my usual reads and I felt sad saying goodbye to some of the characters, especially Aibileen. Although there were some plot problems this book is definitely worth a read and I would give it four solid stars. I would recommend it to anyone interested in learning about the surface issues of black rights and/or women’s rights in the south without it being too heavy a read. The book is obviously targeted more at women with three female narrators but could still be interesting to males interested in the subject. I would suggest 13+.
The quote that stuck out to me most:
‘Write about what disturbs you, particularly if it bothers no one else.’
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Have you read The Help? Did you think it was worth the hype? 🙂
Writing Style: 5/5
Character Development: 4/5
Would I recommend this book? Yes. 🙂
Overall Impression: 4/5
Book Cover: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7856358-the-help