Friday, January 21, 2011

The Help

The Help

Over the weekend, I started and finished The Help by Kathryn Stockett.  I had asked for the book for Christmas simply because it was clearly displayed in every bookstore I visited.  That is always a good indication of a top-selling book, which usually means it's worth reading.

My high expectations weren't to be disappointed.  The novel takes place in Jackson, Missippi, in the early 1960s.  Stockett creates a vivid account of life during the Civil Rights Movement.  She includes real events,  such as the killing of Medgar Evers of the NAACP, and mentions the church bombing in which four children were killed.  She expertly mixes fact with fiction to create characters who could have truly lived at this time.  She even has a main character, Skeeter, find a copy of the Jim Crow laws at the library, which highlights the unjust treatment of African Americans at that time and the absurdity of the laws themselves.

The characters in this book are well-developed and their voices echoed in my head long after I put the book down.  Ms. Stockett did a phenomenal job of bringing each dialect to life and as a result added depth to the characters.  Each was unique, but each was equally compelling.  The three main characters seem very different on the surface level.  Skeeter is a young white woman, who is stifled by her overbearing, critical mother and by the conservative attitudes of the South.  Abeileen is a black maid in her 50s who has raised seventeen white children and currently works in the home of a middle class white woman, who pretends to be in a higher social status.  The woman does not have any interest in her children, and thus, it falls to Abeileen to raise them.  Abeileen has a particular fondness for the young daughter, Mae Mobely, whom she teaches - unbeknownst to her employer - to love herself and respect others for their differences.  The third character is a very short-tempered, heavyset black woman who has trouble keeping a job because she continually talks back to her white employers.  She is portrayed as strong and fearless, but ironically, is in an abusive relationship with her husband at home.

These three women live in very different worlds - white versus black, but fate brings them together when Skeeter, who wants to be a writer, decides to write about something "important."  She realizes a bit too late the danger she has put herself and others into when she begins writing the individual experiences of 12 black maids from her hometown.  Even in keeping their identities a secret, each woman runs the risk of discovery and all of the wrath that may come with it.

This book tells the story of injustice, intolerance, friendship, love, strength, and perseverance.  It emphasizes the bonds that women can build and how, even at the worst of times, good still exits and sometimes, prevails.

See author interview with Katie Couric below

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