Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Review: The Help

Summary: Be prepared to meet three unforgettable women:

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.

In pitch-perfect voices, Kathryn Stockett creates three extraordinary women whose determination to start a movement of their own forever changes a town, and the way women—mothers, daughters, caregivers, friends—view one another. 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. -- Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam

I'm having a very hard time writing this review for THE HELP by Kathryn Stockett. I think it's because I absolutely adored every page of the marvelous novel and don't know how to express it. I'm worried that I'll start gushing about the storyline, the characters, the writing, etc. and that I won't be able to express myself coherently. But this book really is worthy of some major gushing -- THE HELP is definitely going to be on a lot of "Best of.." lists for 2009.

As I reflected on this novel (and I've been doing a lot of reflecting because I can't get the story out of my mind), I'd have to say that in so many ways THE HELP was a coming-of-age story. It's fairly obvious that Skeeter's character matures throughout this novel as she finds her inner strength to seperate herself from her family and friends and write the maids' stories; however, I thought Aibileen and Minny evolved into stronger and better people too. Even though this novel showed the racial problems in the Deep South in the 1960s, I actually was left with a feeling of hope after I finished this novel -- hope that Mississippi would change and hope that other people would change for the better. Not only do I think that many of the characters in this novel changed, I think it was also a "coming-of-age" time for Mississippi and the country as a whole.

What I loved most about this book were the amazing characters in this novel. I can't get over how Ms. Stockett captured each of their voices perfectly. I fell in love with Aibileen, Minny and Skeeter for very different reasons, but I think I most adored Aibileen. She was such a special, caring woman and will remain in my thoughts for a very long time. I think she is a remarkable representation of the many black women who brought up white children; and her courage and strength were so very admirable. I especially loved the stories and the messages that she told her "babies." Not only were the three main characters terrifically developed, but the supporting ones were very interesting too. Even the most despicable characters (and there were quite a few) were essential to this novel.

I appreciated how the author chose to tell this story. The chapters alternated between the three different women's stories and was told in first person narrative by each of them. I thought this was a very effective way to develop these characters and show the different views on the subject matter. I also found it very interesting that Ms. Stockett wrote one chapter in third person narrative -- it was the chapter about The Jackson Junior League Annual Ball and Benefit. This chapter definitely stood out to me, and I'd love to ask her why she chose to write this one chapter that way.

I was really stuck by how honest this novel was on so many levels. Not only did Ms. Stockett tell the "white" side of the story, but she also showed the reader how it felt to be a black maid during 1960s Mississippi. I thought she did an outstanding job of describing how much fear and tension existed on both sides. And she demonstrated perfectly, through a few characters, just how ignorant and arrogant many white people were during these terrible times. I am also incredibly impressed how the author was able to infuse so much humor into this story. Despite the tension I felt while reading this novel, I was also entertained by so many of the characters and their antics.

THE HELP is Kathryn Stockett's first novel, and what an amazing debut it is! This book is very special not only because of the subject matter but also because it is so very well written. Ms. Stockett actually grew up in the South back in the 60s, so this book and its characters are very near and dear to her heart. You can read more about Ms. Stockett in this very interesting interview. Needless to say, I am anxiously awaiting Ms. Stockett's next novel.

I am definitely going to recommend THE HELP to my book group. I am pretty confident that everyone will love the book. Plus, there is just so much to discuss. There is a reading guide available with many thought-provoking discussion questions. Of course, the topics I found the most interesting had to do with the racial issues in the south at that time; but some of the other topics in the book that I would love to discuss further are: racism in today's society, friendships, marriages, domestic abuse, parenting, ethics and morals, revenge and even fear.

THE HELP hits the stores today -- February 10th. If you'd like to get an idea of the book and the author's wonderful writing, you can read an excerpt. I will be recommending this book to everyone I know because I think it's a very special book. If you've read it or are even planning on reading it, I'd love to hear what you think.

A big thanks to Penguin/Putnam and MotherTalk for allowing me to participate in this book blog tour.

Also reviewed at:
A Novel Menagerie


joanna said...

sounds great, it's on my list now! Thanks! :-)

Karlie said...

Wow, what a great review! I'll be sure to check it out.

Jill said...

This has been on my list...can't wait to get my hands on it. Great review!

Anonymous said...

The voices were definitely a huge hit with me as well. They were each distinctive but each so, so human and understandable and endearing. Probably the best way I can think of to tell the story.

Anonymous said...

Great review, as usual. This sounds like one I need to get to soon.

E said...

Thanks for this review. I will definitely be adding it to my list.

S. Krishna said...

Great review - I can't wait to read this one!

Anna said...

I've seen one other review for this book so far, and it sounds like I have to add this to my wish list. Great review!

Diary of an Eccentric

Darlene said...

Great review Julie. This is one I really want to read! It sounds awesome.

Anonymous said...

I LOVED this book too! Everyone should read it!

Dreamybee said...

I loved Aibileen's stories too, especially the one about the martian-that cracked me up! I'm adding a link to your review here http://subliminalintervention.blogspot.com/2009/08/what-im-reading-now-help.html

V said...

Thanks so much for a great review - Ive been thinking about reading this novel as Ive watched it move between the 1st and 2nd positions on the New York Times Best Sellers' List since 22 January 2010. Looking forward to more reviews!