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The Help

by Kathryn Stockett

genre: historical fiction

This is my second read; the first time, I thought The Help was nonfiction so I was quite disappointed when the delusion was shattered. I’ve read some other things in between to cleanse the palate and came back to it with a different expectation. Read the full review to find out if the second read was better than the first.

Synopsis from Goodreads

The Help Book CoverThree ordinary women are about to take one extraordinary step.

Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.

Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.

Minny, Aibileen’s best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody’s business, but she can’t mind her tongue, so she’s lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.
Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.

Review

I saw the movie first, which is the only way I can explain how I missed the many signs that The Help is fiction. I didn’t read the synopsis and apparently missed “a novel” scribbled on the cover. Instead, I thought the movie was about how the book was written, so I expected the book to be the compilation of stories from the maids. I wanted real-life stories about experiences far outside my experience.

What I got was a book similar to the movie. It’s about a white woman trying to make her mark in the publishing industry and get her start as a writer. It’s about colored maids, how they’re treated, and the complicated dynamic between white families and the colored help. When the movie came out, there were complaints and speculation about it being written by a rich white woman whose family had a colored maid, which Stockett addresses at the end of the audio book.

Perhaps it’s because I’m white and I didn’t live during the segregation, but I don’t understand why it’s such a big deal that The Help is written by a white woman. If we limit authors to writing their own race, we wouldn’t have To Kill a Mockingbird or Antony and Cleopatra. It’s ridiculous to think authors should not write other races. The argument is that a white woman whose family employed a colored maid can never accurately give a voice to the maid. Even Stockett admits that this terrified her, but how is that different than a white person writing historical fiction about pilgrims and Indians? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section.

The Story

It was beautiful and the ending made me cry. Screw the angry critics, I’m glad Stockett wrote the book and I don’t care that she’s white. I would have liked it better if it was nonfiction because I liked seeing good stories of white people taking care of their maids along with the bad. I’m not going to pretend that it wasn’t awful, separate but equal was far from equal, but it’s nice to see that other side.

Stockett also had a great grasp of how to teach kids. Aibileen’s lessons were creative and digestable to a three year old. Overall well written and poigniant. My favorite character was one of the white women, Cecilia. She “didn’t see the lines,” as Minnie put it. She sat with her maid at lunch, protected Minnie from an attack, and didn’t understand that she was in a different leaugue from the women with whom she wanted to spend time.

Book vs. Movie

I liked the characters in the movie better, particularly Skeeter’s Mom. Mrs. Feeling fires the Maid who raised her daughter and had been with the family for twenty-some-odd years (or longer, I don’t remember). In the book, she tries to justify her actions and shows no remourse, while in the movie she regrets what she did even though she is unable to fix it. She also has an amazing line about Two Slice Hillie in the movie that wasn’t in the book.

Overall, 4 out of 5 stars. I liked it, I’d reread it, but it didn’t bow my socks off.

-Eliabeth Hawthorne

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