The Help by Kathryn Stockett Review 4/5

Overall Impression: A leisurely walk through history with some strikingly memorable characters.
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
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.’

*   *   *

Have you read The Help? Did you think it was worth the hype? 🙂

Writing Style: 5/5
Originality: 4/5
Entertainment: 4/5
Character Development: 4/5
Would I recommend this book? Yes. 🙂

Overall Impression: 4/5

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24 thoughts on “The Help by Kathryn Stockett Review 4/5

  1. I loved the Help. I think what is interesting as well is that the male view is so small in this book and that probably has a lot to do with it being written by a woman. Certainly a feminist would say that men have had enough books written from their perspective so a book about women’s issues, specifically African American women’s issues should have less of that. Also, it speaks clearly to the time period, this was a time when woman ran the household and men went to work and ignored everything but dinner being on the table. That is a pretty consistent image for Stockett to paint of the southern man at that time. They are not involved too much in the story because in reality – they weren’t involved. Anyway, that’s just how I viewed it. Great review, glad you enjoyed stepping out of your comfort zone!

    • Yes it is very noticeable. It is true that there are more books written about men and their lives but I think it is less of an issue nowadays, most of the books I read are from female perspectives written by female writers, and I would never normally have an issue with this. It wasn’t a big issue in The Help, but I just felt because it was a historical book dealing with important issues of inequality that it would have been good to get a male opinion in too, just to get a full overall picture. 🙂
      But I also agree with what you say secondly, it does reflect the fact that they were not around so often and this could have been what the author was trying to portray. The women also had the more intricate perspective! However, I still felt even if they weren’t around much they must of still had an interesting opinion. After all, even though I am never around bankers for instance, it doesn’t mean I don’t have an opinion on them. 🙂
      Thanks for sharing your view, I think many others would agree and one of the most interesting things with blogging is hearing alternative views! Thanks for reading and enjoying.

  2. Blimey, this one sounds like a rather heavy read. It’s good to be taken out of your comfort zone sometimes.

    I’ve actually been to Jackson, Mississippi. It was in 2008 rather than 1962, but the houses in the poor areas were shocking.

    PS – I’m stalking you on Goodreads at the moment and it’s making me nervous.

      • Actually it was a surprisingly light read! That’s one of the things that was so strange about it. There are a few small undertones and you get the idea of the repression and inequality but the overall book is very positive an extremely easy to read!

        Ohh really? That’s so cool, it’s sad the hear that they have some really run down areas.

        Ha ha, you might want to take it slow Michael, it’s exam season so it will probably take me a while to finish it!

        Ohh yeah, that was totally my evil plan all along to blackmail you of course, I’m a mastermind in disguise. Mwuhuuu.

  3. I watched the film the other day and it was FUCKING AMAZING. I cried my eyes out, so the book is definitely on my to-read list. I was a bit skeptical about the book when I discovered it was a white person writing it, but hopefully the book will still make me feel all the things. 🙂
    As for the “male perspective,” I think we’re so used to books having a male dominated plot – either as the romantic interest or as the villain or whatever, that when they don’t, we can’t help but notice. From the film I didn’t mind as such, because they had a little bit of romance (enough to satisfy that part of my brain, I guess), and I didn’t see how men could’ve contributed?

    • Haha glad to hear you liked the film! I wasn’t sure if it would be your sort of thing, mostly because there is barely any romance in the book at all, maybe they played it up a little more for the film, I don’t know but yay for liking it!! Plus, Emma Stone. 😉 Someone’s lent me the DVD but I haven’t watched it yet. The book was awesome too so hopefully you’ll like it. 🙂
      Yeah that’s definitely true, they’re nearly always there as a love interest and with The Help there is barely even that! I didn’t really have an issue with there not being a male perspective simply because I was used to having one though, I just thought their input might be an opportunity to give another angle on the issue of racism, that being said, I also think the author left them out for a reason!

    • Yeah, although that was one of my minor criticisms I also recognise that it would have been an entirely different book if she had gone down that route, and I’m not sure that was what she wanted to portray anyway! She definitely wanted it to be more about the characters and their relationships. I think the fact that it isn’t too serious is a great way to make others aware of black rights history in the south in an accessible way. 🙂

  4. Makes me want to read this book more! I’ve had it on my Kindle for at least a year and just haven’t got round to it. Will definitely move it up the reading list.

    • Glad to hear that! I was the same way with this book, I’ve had it on my shelf quite a few years now but someone lent me the film so that spurred me into reading it, always gotta read the book first. 😛

      I hope you enjoy it when you get around to it!

  5. I have not read this book, but I have watched the movie. It has a pretty unique concept and the characters are all interesting one way or another. I still can’t get over that pie Minny baked for Hilly… unless that’s not there at all in the book?

    • Ahh I haven’t seen the movie yet but someone has lent me the DVD, I’m just waiting for my memories to fade of the book a little before I watch it, otherwise I know I will just sit there saying ‘that didn’t happen in the book, they changed that, etc.’
      Yepp that is in the book, I couldn’t believe it either! 😛

  6. I must be living in a cave or something because I never heard of this book before you mentioned it. Although the story sounds very familiar(there are so many Hollywood movies based on this theme) I can see why it would be popular. Great review! 🙂

    • Wow really? It’s been hard to avoid it here! Although most of the hype for it was a year or two ago now, it’s calmed down a bit since then. Ah, maybe you’ve heard of the film adaption they did of it? I think this one’s slightly more unique because of the heavy female balance of the storytelling, I think that plus the chick-lit marketing meant that it got a lot more attention than a book like this would normally!
      Thanks Nisha, that always means a lot coming from you. 😀

  7. Just my opinion, but I feel like the female “voices” in the story had been so influenced by males in that time period that the reader is experiencing them at the same time. It made me sick to read the commonplace superior attitudes of the women, based on race and not just affluence. It permeated the society, but I would imagine men controlled things then even more than they do now. People even socialized that bigotry into their children, but I’m glad it didn’t work its way into Skeeter and a few of the other characters.
    I also liked The Help and think it lived up to the hype. Having Emma Stone play Skeeter probably helped the movie’s notoriety, and I’m glad because modern-day readers (especially young ones) should still think about America’s not-so-pretty history. Even if it is at surface level, as you say and to which I agree. The book did suffer criticism about an unknowing point-of-view, but I believe Stockett’s credibility and am glad she (like her character, Skeeter) wrote it. I enjoyed your review as well!

    • That’s an interesting way of looking at it Katy. 🙂 I hadn’t really considered that it is an idea I will have to have a think about!
      Yes that is another thing I really liked about the story, the decision the author made to focus on how that prejudice slowly seeps into their own children and I love how Aibileen and Mae Mobley’s story-line really focused on that aspect. It is so hard when you grow up with something to realise that it is actually wrong.

      Glad you enjoyed the book so much, I only recently realised that Emma Stone was playing Skeeter, it’s an interesting choice and I’m looking forward to seeing how she does in the role! Someone’s let me borrow the DVD so I’m looking forward to watching it.
      Yeah, I think people assume because it’s surface level it isn’t worth reading, but I disagree, I think it’s a great way to spur those unfamiliar with the subject to go off and look up more of America’s history. 🙂

      Thanks for sharing your point of view and I’m glad you enjoyed reading!

    • I’m happy to hear you loved the book too Jeann! I feel a little behind reading this one, I may have been late to the party but I’m glad I did’t skip it altogether. 🙂
      I haven’t watched the movie yet, I hope I enjoy it. :S

      Thanks for commenting!

  8. I read it too. I liked being immersed in the ambient southern culture at that point in history. Here’s what I didn’t like. I didn’t like the overarching narrative of white privilege being so kind as to document and publish the poor minority’s struggle. It reminded me of the narrative behind Philadelphia, the Tom Hanks movie. Look a the nice straight man saving that sick gay guy.

    I suspect that if The Help or Philadelphia had narratives that reflected reality they would never have become movies or bestsellers. Reality being that minorities fought for their rights while the majority at best ignored them and at worst thwarted their efforts. Maybe I am taking this too seriously.

    I am reading Gone With The Wind right now. The tone in that book is shamelessly pro-slavery and racist. This bothers me a lot less because, I feel like it’s an accurate representation of what most southerners actually thought.

    • I agree, I definitely felt that was one of my favourite aspects of the book, being able to feel like you had gone back in time, it was so vivid. 🙂

      You’ve hit the nail on the head, that’s what bothered me about it and was one of the things I meant when talking about the book skirting over the worst parts of black rights and everyone ending up happy. Not realistic at all, although fiction doesn’t necessarily have to be. I know some white people did stand up for them but it was far too unrealistic, there were too many positive things happening. But then again, I wasn’t there and I don’t have enough knowledge of the time period so I couldn’t really say anything that would back it up, it’s just the impression I get. This is the main reason I couldn’t give it five stars. That’s a very good comparison actually! I had mixed feelings about that film.

      No I don’t think you are, it is a serious topic and deserves discussion! The other thing of course is that everyone loves an underdog story that ends happily and I think this is also part of the issue. Again, I also think you’re right that there’s no way this book would have been so popular if it had a serious tone, not as many people would have read it.

      I’d love to hear what you think of Gone with the Wind when you finish it! Thanks for the thoughtful considered comment. 🙂

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