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The Help - A Book Review




I am reading the book reviewed below.  It contains some of the most richly written dialogue I have ever read.  I see each and every character and conversation taking place as if I am watching a movie.  I can see it as a movie casted with Jennifer Hudson, Angela Bassett, Kate Blanchett and Julia Roberts.

I haven't finished the book yet, but from page 1 I knew it was a winner.  I do not consider it Chick Lit either.  I don't usually read that.  I wish  I could write like Stockett.


Book Review: The Help by Kathryn Stockett Posted on February 9, 2009 by Rebecca @ The Book Lady's Blog Set for publication February 10, 2009 from Amy Einhorn Books (a division of Penguin)

Kathryn Stockett’s phenomenal debut novel The Help, set in Jackson, Mississippi in 1962, is told from the perspectives of three very different women. Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan is fresh out of college and back at her parents’ home in Jackson, Mississippi. Her dream is to become a writer. Her mother’s dream is for her to find a well-to-do Southern boy from a good family with a healthy trust fund and get married. Bored with her friends and frustrated by the way they talk to and about their maids—the help—Skeeter dreams up an idea that could change life in Jackson for the better, but it is quite a dangerous proposition. Aibileen Clark is a fifty-something black woman who works as a maid for Elizabeth Leefolt, one of Skeeter’s close friends. Aibileen has spent her life raising other people’s children and is still mourning her son Treelore, who died in a horrible accident three years ago. Aibileen is stoic and strong, and she knows her place, but she understands what the ladies she works for are really all about.

" Only three things them ladies talk about: they kids, they clothes, and they friends. I hear the word Kennedy, I know they ain’t discussing no politic. They talking about what Miss Jackie done wore on the tee-vee"

. Aibileen views Mrs. Leefolt and her friends as superficial and sadly disconnected from their children’s lives. She does her best to treat the children with kindness and to teach them, albeit secretly, that color should not matter. But she overhears the ladies’ conversations—lately, they focus on the need for separate restrooms for “coloreds”—and she knows that color still does make a difference. And it’s a very big difference. After a social gathering at the Leefolts’ home, Skeeter stops to say hello to Aibileen and asks her if she’s really okay with the way things are, or if she wants things to change. Taken aback, Aibileen responds that things are all right, but she can’t stop thinking about Skeeter’s question. At first, she thinks it’s an impossible suggestion. \

"Miss Skeeter asking don’t I want to change things, like changing Jackson, Mississippi, gone be like changing a lightbulb."

But as Aibileen reflects on the women in her life—other strong black women who work hard only to be treated like dogs—she begins to change her mind. I think about all my friends, what they done for me. What they do for the white women they waiting on…And all of it roll on top of me. I close my eyes, say the Lord’s prayer to myself. But it don’t make me feel any better. Law help me, but something’s gone have to be done. As Aibileen warms up to the idea that change just might be possible, Skeeter hits on what she believes is a great way to launch her career as a writer. Reflecting on her affection for Constantine, the maid who raised her, and increasingly agitated by her friends’ insistence on supporting segregation, Skeeter decides that it’s about time someone told the other side of the story. She asks Aibileen to tell her the truth about working for white women. It takes some time, but Aibileen gets on board with the project and feels so freed by writing her own story that she sets out to recruit her friends to the project. Aibileen and Skeeter have a difficult time finding women who are willing to talk openly about their experiences because so much is at stake. If they are found out, the black women’s jobs–and even their lives—will be in jeopardy, and Skeeter risks losing her friends and her career before it even gets off the ground. Finally, Aibileen’s friend Minny, the third narrator of The Help, agrees to participate despite her resistance and fear. Minny tells us she couldn’t pass up the opportunity because It’s something about that word truth.

"I’ve been trying to tell white women the truth about working for them since I was fourteen years old."

And later: "Truth. It feels cool, like water washing over my sticky-hot body. Cooling a heat that’s been burning me up all my life."

Not one to keep her mouth shut, Minny, who is much closer to Skeeter’s age than Aibileen’s, has been fired from more jobs than she can count. When we meet her, she is embroiled in an all-out battle with Skeeter’s close friend Hilly Holbrook, who just happens to be heading up a movement encouraging whites to build separate bathrooms in their homes for their colored help. Minny isn’t the only one who has a problem with Hilly, and the drama surrounding Hilly’s constant agitation and posturing are a key focus of the action in this novel. Skeeter, Aibileen, and Minny are an unlikely trio, but their work on the project unites them under a common cause and proves to them that women can connect with each other regardless of their color. As they collect stories from more and more women, Skeeter, Aibileen, and Minny are deeply affected by what they hear. For Skeeter:

"These things I know already, yet hearing them from colored mouths, it is as if I am hearing them for the first time."

Though telling her stories is often painful, Minny discovers I like telling my stories. It feels like I’m doing something about it. And she begins to think about the possibilities of freedom—from racial segregation and from her abusive husband—in a way she never has before.

"Who knows what I could become, if Leroy would stop goddamn hitting me."

The women undertake this project with the hope that the book will be published and will instigate change in Jackson and throughout the country. Regardless of the results (which I won’t spoil here), the process of sharing their stories and the journey they take together is more than enough. Skeeter, Aibileen, and Minny come to understand that the point of the book was For women to realize, we are just two people. Not that much separates us. Not nearly as much as I’d thought. Along the way, we get to know the women that Aibileen, Minny, and their friends work for, and we understand these women through their maids’ eyes and from Skeeter’s perspective of them as her peers and former friends. We also see the melodrama of Skeeter’s interactions with Hilly Holbrook and her society friends, her frustrating relationship with her mother, and her forays into dating. We see Aibileen and Minny in their formal clothes at work and in their comfortable living rooms at home, where they let their hair down and support each other like women friends do. Kathryn Stockett paints a full and vivid picture of life in a small Southern town that is just on the cusp of civil rights and great change and is caught up in all of the controversy and heat that go with it. She succeeds in giving Aibileen and Minny realistic black Southern voices that the reader can just almost hear. Stockett peoples her small town with characters that we come to know and feel we’d be able to recognize if we passed them on the street. The types are familiar—all of us know a Hilly Holbrook and a Celia Foote—but the individuals unique. The Help is addictively, compulsively readable. I couldn’t put it down. Stockett’s debut is well-written, and it is clear that she really understands Southern life and has made great efforts to understand what life was like for black women who served white families. She presents sad stories that leave a great glimmer of hope, and though she examines our differences and our mistakes, she highlights our humanity to wonderful effect. And while this is a serious book, it also has wonderfully lighthearted moments, humorous moments, and strikingly funny insights into women and their behavior. I loved this book and can’t recommend it highly enough. This is a wonderful first novel that hints at the promise of a very bright career. 5 out of 5.






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