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The Help

A book by Kathryn Stockett.

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Gender, race, place, or age are no excuse for failing to read The Help

  • Jul 15, 2012
  • by
Rating:
+5
I am a white man who has never lived in Mississippi and would have been the age of little Mae Mobley at the time period covered in the book. But to dismiss this as a "woman's book" or in any other way attempt to excuse myself from reading would have been unacceptable.

By now everyone who wants has read the book or seen the excellent movie version of it, which was nominated for several Academy Awards, winning Octavia Spencer the award for Actress in a Supporting Role for her portrayal of Minnie, the second African American maid who grudgingly agreed to assist white Skeeter Phelan in writing the anonymous account of African-American maids serving white women in Jackson, Mississippi. Anyone who has hesitated for the reasons I listed above has no excuse. Anyone who doesn't want to read it must be written down as failing to understand the wrong of racism and hatred of others because of skin color or gender, an ignorance equivalent to inexcusable encouragement.

In the book, to briefly summarize the now-familiar plot, Skeeter Phelan has just graduated from college and returned to her parents cotton farm just outside Jackson with the dream of becoming a writer. Finding a job at the local paper ghost-writing the home help (think "Hints by Heloise") column, in her complete ignorance she turns to the African-American maids of her married friends. As they help her with household hints, she slowly realizes starts to question the unwritten rules and boundaries separating the races, and suggests writing a book telling the story of the maids. The maids are afraid for their lives (this is not a game, Minnie memorably tells Skeeter at one point), a shock that helps Skeeter realize the depths of the problem. How the book gets finished and published, and the reaction to it among her friends, the maids, and her own family round out a full-bodied yet amazingly fast-moving book and movie.

From a literary point of view, probably the most interesting, difficult, and potentially dangerous decision made by first-novelist Stockett is to write not only in the first-person voice of Skeeter, but also to alternately write as Minnie and Abilene, the first maid (Viola Davis in the movie) who agrees to help. While she does use some dialect and slang, it is never reads as offensive or distracting to my ears, perhaps in part because I grew up on a farm in a rural area with an ear tuned to hearing people (including my family and myself) talk in unselfconscious styles that might be considered "hick", and because I have lived the last 11 years in Raleigh, North Carolina so I have gotten used to the vocabulary and cadence of the Southern voice. The characters take living shape through the language, and the dialogue always rings true. I saw the movie before reading the book, and while the movie made some changes to the plot, the characterizations also hold true and the changes do not materially change the story.

I found myself in reading the book wanting to read the book Skeeter and the maids wrote. Stockett provides a brief true-life story of her maid at the end of the book, and in the acknowledgements mentions "Telling Memories Among Southern Women: Domestic Workers and Their Employers in the Segregated South " by Susan Tucker as a nonfiction oral account of the domestics and their white employers. It is available on Amazon.

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July 15, 2012
Interesting perspectives!
 
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More The Help reviews
review by . July 12, 2010
My book group chose to read Kathryn Stockett's "The Help," and I was a little apprehensive when I started reading. The author is a white and writes in the voices of two black women, which made me uncomfortable. (How am I to know if the characters are authentic? The author has never been in those characters' shoes.) Plus, I thought the subject had been done before.      But apprehensions aside, I was blown away by the story. It is engaging and thought-provoking. …
review by . May 16, 2010
The story is set in Jackson, Mississippi, in the early sixties, and narrated by three women: Aibileen is an older housemaid who has raised seventeen white children, Minny is a younger domestic with a hot temper, and Skeeter is a wealthy, white, college graduate who has just returned home to her critical mother.       The story starts off as a look at bored, rich women with nothing better to do than gossip about each other while being insensitive if not downright cruel to "the …
review by . July 09, 2010
On recommendation by the book club to which I belong, I opened the cover of The Help, Kathryn Stockett's debut novel and one which has garnered a great deal of attention--including well over 2,000 reviews on Amazon and counting fast. Indeed, a second review appears on The Smoking Poet, a literary ezine I manage, written by Jeanette Lee, which pretty much sums up all that, to my mind, needs be said.     I add, then, my personal opinion. First impression: yikes. I read a few sentences …
review by . July 04, 2010
The Help by Kathryn Stockett is one of the best books I have read in a long time. The book is set in the Jackson, Mississippi during the 1960s. The book follows the stories of several African American maids working in the homes of wealthy white women. It is written in multi-perspective narrative form. I picked up this book because it was recommended to me by a friend and was not disappointed by the recommendation. From the first page, I was hooked to the unique style of writing. Kathryn Stockett's …
Quick Tip by . January 27, 2011
Intriguing and addictive read about African American maids in the south in the 1960's. The change in perspectives gave this novel great suspense.  My only complaint is that I would have liked a chapter in the voice of Hilly or Celia - the most intriguing characters IMO.
review by . July 06, 2010
I loved this book- the story and the characters and the writing- and here's why: The main story here- of the women who nanny and clean the house, their backgrounds and how they relate to one another- is a solid one and written well enough to be its own book.  But the secondary story is even better.  It's a story of what happens when people cross party lines and create something unique together.  I was reading the book and feeling very involved when, wham!, this second story …
review by . June 20, 2010
The Help is a page-turning story that takes place in Jacksonville, Miss in the pre-civil rights 1960's about the segregated relationships between the wealthy white land-owners and their hired black help. Narrated by one wealthy white woman, Skeeter and two maids; hot headed-genius in the kitchen, Minny, and aging benevolent, Abilene.      Skeeter returns from graduating college back home to Jacksonville where she will see through the inequities between employers and the help …
review by . February 06, 2010
Wow. I've been trying to find the words to review this one since I finished reading it, but I'm not coming up with the right thing here. This book is, simply, amazing. I was shocked to learn this was the first book by this author. The writing is beautiful, eloquent... just... good.    The setting is post segregation, not long after MLK is shot in Jackson, Mississippi. Someone decides to write a book about being a black maid to a white family. It's poignant, it makes you think, …
review by . January 28, 2010
What more is there to say that 1,500 other reviewers haven't already said. I just wanted to add my two cents.    I loved this book. It was so well written and poignant that once I started it was hard to put down.    I LOVED the women in Stockett's story, even the nasty ones. They were all very real and many of them were people I would have loved to sit down and have a glass of iced tea with on a hot southern day.    Although Stockett makes …
review by . May 10, 2010
Skeeter Phelan, new college grad, wants to become a serious writer. Following the advice of a New York editor, she decides to write about something that bothers her, the treatment given by her mother and friends to their household help. As she begins interviewing the maids, Skeeter opens her mind to the terrible injustices woven into Mississippi society by old Jim Crow. The novel has three narrators, Skeeter herself and two maids, Minny and Aibileen. What evolves are deeply emotional stories about …
About the reviewer
Todd Stockslager ()
Ranked #38
I love reading and writing about what I have read, making the connections and marking the comparisons and contrasts. God has given man the amazing power to invent language and the means to record it which … more
About this book

Wiki

Starred Review. What perfect timing for this optimistic, uplifting debut novel (and maiden publication of Amy Einhorn's new imprint) set during the nascent civil rights movement in Jackson, Miss., where black women were trusted to raise white children but not to polish the household silver. Eugenia Skeeter Phelan is just home from college in 1962, and, anxious to become a writer, is advised to hone her chops by writing about what disturbs you. The budding social activist begins to collect the stories of the black women on whom the country club sets relies and mistrusts enlisting the help of Aibileen, a maid who's raised 17 children, and Aibileen's best friend Minny, who's found herself unemployed more than a few times after mouthing off to her white employers. The book Skeeter puts together based on their stories is scathing and shocking, bringing pride and hope to the black community, while giving Skeeter the courage to break down her personal boundaries and pursue her dreams. Assured and layered, full of heart and history, this one has bestseller written all over it.(Feb.)
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ISBN-10: 0399155341
ISBN-13: 978-0399155345
Author: Kathryn Stockett
Genre: Literature & Fiction
Publisher: Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam
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