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Book Review: The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Title: The Help

Author: Kathryn Stockett

Publisher: Amy Einhorn Books

Genre: Historical Fiction

First Publication: 2009

Language: English

Major Characters: Constantine Bates, Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan, Aibileen Clark, Minny Jackson, Hilly Holbrook, Elizabeth Leefolt, Celia Foote, Stuart Whitworth, Mae Mobley Leefolt, Leroy Jackson, Elaine Stein, Yule May Crookle, Johnny Foote, William Holbrook, Senator “Stoolie” Whitworth, Pascagoula, Treelore Clark

Setting Place: Jackson, Mississippi; 1962 through 1964

Theme: Racism, Social Class, Help vs. Hypocrisy, Writing, Storytelling, and Freedom

Narrator: First-person from the perspectives of Aibileen, Minny, and Miss Skeeter

 

Book Summary: The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Three 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.

A deeply moving novel filled with poignancy, humor, and hope, The Help is a timeless and universal story about the lines we abide by, and the ones we don’t.

 

Book Review: The Help by Kathryn Stockett

The Help by Kathryn Stockett follows the lives of three women living in 1962 Jackson, Mississippi. Two of the women, Aibilene and Minny are black, hired as help to wealthy, or trying to appear wealthy, white families.

Eugenia, or “Skeeter” as she is called, is a white woman recently graduated from Ole Miss University and trying to become a writer. She is what probably most of us are, kindly ignorant of the world around her. Raised on what her mother embarrassingly still refers to as a “plantation” she lived in an environment with all the privilege and prejudice you’d expect from a southern belle. Living at home again, Skeeter doesn’t quite fit in anymore among her friends, who are all married with children.

“You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”

When a feminist editor from New York rejects one of Skeeter’s submissions, she includes with that rejection the advice for Skeeter to write about what disturbs her. It is while playing bridge with her friends, and she becomes aware of her friend, Miss Hilly’s, crusade for every home to have a separate bathroom installed for “the help”, to contain the germs blacks carry that whites are more susceptible to, that Skeeter realizes she has found her subject matter.

“I always thought insanity would be a dark, bitter feeling, but it is drenching and delicious if you really roll around in it.”

Skeeter is the least developed character of the three but she is the means in which this uniquely uplifting story can be told. Without Skeeter, who at 22, finally and lonesomely comes of age, The Help would simply be another shocking look at the racial inequality that existed still so recently in the South. It is Skeeter’s character, and her ambition to write a book that matters, that strips Aibilene’s and Minny’s blatantly mistreated, funny and irresistible characters out of their perfectly pressed maid uniforms and into each of our lives.

“Write about what disturbs you, particularly if it bothers no one else.”

I don’t want to give away too much about Abilene and Minny, who became women I loved. They mattered to me. Aibilene, especially, is so vividly written, that her voice, her mannerisms, her unguarded moments took solid form in my imagination.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett is fiction that reads like non-fiction; probably because it is in large part based on some of the experiences the author had as a child growing up in Mississippi. She explains this in an additional section at the back of the book.

It took Kathryn Stockett five years to complete writing The Help and it was rejected by 60 literary agents, over a period of three years, before agent Susan Ramer agreed to represent Stockett. The Help has since been published in 35 countries and three languages.


 

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