Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Help | Kathryn Stockett

The Help follows the intertwining stories of three women who narrate the novel, which is set up in Jackson, Mississippi during the 1960s. Racism is commonplace, and the black maids that work for white families are often underappreciated and discriminated against. Miss Skeeter, an aspiring writer, misses her family's previous African American maid who raised her, Constantine, but she left years ago and Miss Skeeter has no idea where she is. She longs to talk with Constantine, who had been a maternal figure to Miss Skeeter. After all, Constantine would not judge her like her mother constantly does.

While wondering where Constantine has gone and witnessing racist discrimination from everyone in town (especially Miss Hilly), Miss Skeeter has a controversial idea: To write a book of the true stories of various black maids in Jackson. Despite the awful risks, Aibileen, a maid who raises white children, and Minny, a maid who tends to smart mouth her bosses and often gets fired, decide to help Skeeter. All the while, these women have their own problems to face, altogether creating a wonderful story with so much depth in this story of radiant hope.
At my first glance of the movie trailers of The Help, I thought it looked like a chick flick version of To Kill a Mockingbird. Therefore, I immediately held intrerest in reading this book though weary of giving it a try. But even though it may be in the same league as To Kill a Mockingbird, it's actually quite different. I loved it.

The Help is an extraordinary novel with great characters that embody strength. The stories of Minny, Aibileen, and Miss Skeeter were so interesting and captivating I never wanted to put it down. Because of the three narrations, this book had an incredible amount of depth - much more depth than usual with books that have multiple narrations. I felt for so many of the characters, even in addition to the three narrators. Miss Celia, who is Minny's strange boss, has secrets that will break your heart. I enjoyed reading about how strange she is to Minny.

Between all of these characters, this story has everything: racism, depression, love, abusive relationships, bad parenting, good parenting, great characters, and hope. And all of this drama is captured with flawless writing from Kathryn Stockett, so it flows perfectly.

In the midst of all this, you'd be surprised by how much humor is woven into this novel. I've never read a book that made me smile so much. Ever. Even when something wasn't funny, I still managed to smile at this touching story. A lot of times, it was because of Aibileen and her relationship with Mae Mobley. There's no way that kid would be properly loved if Aibileen wasn't around to tell her that she was smart and pretty every day, because Elizabeth sure didn't care much. I was amazed at the bad parenting demonstrated here.

What really shocked me was the direct racism. I've read To Kill a Mockingbird a couple of times, but now I realize that since the situation in that book took place in court where you can't just come right out and say "I blame Tom Robinson because he's black" the racism was usually just hinted at. The Help is much more direct than that. People come right out and talk about awful things, like seperate bathrooms so none of the feared "diseases" can be caught. I couldn't believe it. And the antagonist, Hilly, seemed to be the epitome of it all, while other ladies just sat and agreed with her just for the sake of agreeing.

There's a reason for all of the hype behind The Help, and that reason is simply that it is a marvelous story. It will make you laugh and it will make you cry... I know I did quite a bit of both.

Please, for your sake, go read this book.

5/5 Stars

Stockett, Kathryn. The Help
New York: Penguin Group Inc.