Thursday, January 28, 2010
Review: The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
America may be undergoing the civil rights movement, but Jackson, Mississippi in 1962 feels like the last bastion of the Deep South. White ladies with their black maids socialize in the heat and talk of sending provisions to starving children in Africa, unaware of their own absurdity. For two black maids, experienced Aibileen and loudmouth Minny, and one young white “spinster,” Miss Skeeter, though, their worlds are about to turn upside down.
An aspiring writer, Miss Skeeter, still reeling from the mysterious disappearance of her beloved childhood maid, is driven to write a book that interviews the ups and downs of the lives of maids in Jackson. Easier said than done: the maids have heard of the blacks who were tortured or even killed when they spoke out. Eventually, Aibileen and Minny agree to help Miss Skeeter, but the going is tough as they fearfully keep their secret hidden from the rest of the town.
It’s hard to put into words the scope of this book. THE HELP deals with a piece of Mississippian history that’s little known and even less spoken of. What could have easily fallen into the clichéd ruts of Southern or black American history instead stands on its own due to its smooth writing and unforgettable characters.
Each of the main characters who narrate THE HELP have their own distinct voice, history, and conflicts, which helped make this book richly layered and so much more than what its synopsis implies. Aibileen, Minny, and even Miss Skeeter will be your best friends, while the side characters also hold their own in this world. Even the “evil” characters like Miss Hilly are fully realized, with all their hypocrisy, deeply rooted prejudices, and borderline horrifying penchant for vengeance. The tension builds throughout as the stakes mount, and you’ll barely want to put this down, desperate to find out if everything will be alright.
Not everyone will love this book. Beyond the great writing, story, and characters is an uncomfortable tension with the real history, and that’s the trouble with this book having been written by a white Southern woman. There are those who will probably be offended by the book’s content, and there will also be those who have no problem with its nervous treatment of this sensitive part of American history. But there is no denying Kathryn Stockett’s talent. THE HELP is an incredible achievement of voice and characterization. You can be assured that Stockett will stay on everyone’s radars for a long time to come.
Overall Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Cover discussion: Well, I am far from being qualified to comment on covers of adult books. They're just so different. I'll say that I do very much love the gold foil-ness of it, though.
Penguin / Feb. 2009 / Hardcover / 464pp. / $24.95
The copy I read for review was bought by meeeee.