Cover of The HelpThe Help by Kathryn Stockett-Eva said, "The Help has been getting a lot of hype in the blogosphere. Is it worth it?" I think so-I loved this book. Aibileen and Minny are two black women in 1960's Mississippi, employed as domestic workers for white families. Skeeter Phelan is a friend of Aibileen's employer, and she is looking around at her group of friends and starting to wonder if maybe they aren't all the paragons of virtue they think they are.
Hilly Holbrook has begun campaigning for the Home Help Sanitation Initiative, a bill that would require every white home to have a separate bathroom for the colored help because "Everybody knows they carry different kinds of diseases than we do." Hilly just gets more and more loveable as the book goes on (I'm being sarcastic, in case any of you can't see my eyes rolling all the way back in my skull over here), but Skeeter doesn't quite feel the same way as the rest of her friends and wants to try to do something to change things. She wants to write a book telling the world what it's really like for the black domestic workers in the South, what it's like to be the help. She starts by talking to Aibileen who is, understandably, skeptical of Skeeter and her motives at first and worried about what will happen to her if she speaks out and tells the truth, tells the world that, honestly, being somebody else's maid is not the bees knees, and no, white people aren't always above reproach. Even with Aibileen's contributions, Skeeter still needs to get other stories, and she enlists Aibileen's help to try to convince other maids to tell their stories. It's an uphill battle all-around, for everyone involved, and I loved the characters and what they come together to do and how they do it.
My cousin started reading this book before I did, and she mentioned that one of the characters is a sassy black maid who reminded her a lot of my dad. I thought this was kind of funny since my dad is neither a black woman nor a maid, and, while he is a pretty funny guy, I don't know if he exactly qualifies as "sassy." I totally forgot about this remark until after I'd finished the book and I mentioned that Aibileen reminded me of my (paternal) grandma. The way she talks and the way her speech was written reminded me of the way my grandma talks and writes. My cousin said, "That's so weird because Minny reminded me of your dad!" and, yeah, I can totally see what she means. The following exchange between Minny and her new employer, Miss Celia, is a good example of this. Miss Celia has hired Minny to come work for her, but she hasn't told her husband, and Minny is a little worried about the possible ramifications of this.
"And what's Mister Johnny gone do if he come home and find a colored woman up in his kitchen?"
"I'm sorry, I just can't--"
"I'll tell you what he's gone do, he's gone get that pistol and shoot Minny dead right here on this no-wax floor."
Miss Celia shakes her head. "I'm not telling him."
"Then I got to go," I say. Shit. I knew it. I knew she was crazy when I walked in the door--
"It's not that I'd be fibbing to him. I just need a maid--"
"A course you need a maid. Last one done got shot in the head."
This is totally the type of thing my dad would say!
is looking forward to The Help (has just read and reviewed The Help) and wanted to know, "Would you put it in your top 10 for the year? Top 5?" Definitely, on both counts! As I said, I really enjoyed the different characters. With the exception of one chapter, the story is told from Aibileen's, Minny's and Miss Skeeter's points of view, but even the non-narrative characters have great presences (is that really a word? Presences...doesn't sound right...anyway...), at least the women do. There are a few men that make their appearances in this novel, and we don't really get much of a feel for them, but this isn't really their story anyway.
Something of note here: I read this for our book club, and the book club members who were present for the discussion of this book were 3 white girls in their 30s, and one mixed-race gentleman in his 60s who grew up in the South. All of us girls loved the book; he thought it was one of the most depressing things he'd ever read. Now, admittedly, he hadn't finished the book, but I thought it was interesting that we had such different takes on it. Even when I was only part-way through the book, it never struck me that way. For him it was just bringing up all the terrible things that he knew from first-hand experience had actually happened in our history. For us, or at least for me, it was knowing that we had come through those things and were now on the other side of history, not perfect, but at least better than we were. Also, it was about the women who were fighting against those things; trying to make things better; doing what they could, against tremendous odds, to make their voices heard. Unfortunately, I've never been able to get much follow-up from this man on his thoughts on the book after he finished it, but if I ever do, I'll come back here and update.
Sorry, I feel like this review is all over the place. Takeaway: I really enjoyed this book, but now I'm curious if it is a common phenomenon for different people to respond to it differently depending on what their backgrounds are. I mean, I suppose that's the case with almost any book, but this is the first time that I've experienced a divide this extreme, more than the usual, "I really liked it!" "Really? I thought it was boring." Anyone else have any input on this?
I'm sure there are more people out there who have read this! If you have and you've reviewed it, let me know and I'll post a link to your review. If you haven't reviewed it, feel free to let me know what you thought of it here!