Book Review: The Help

Author: Kathryn Stockdett

Published by: Amy Einhorn/Putnam, 2009

My daughter, Candice, and I each read this book in 2010 but we never quite had enough time to sit and talk about it at length. But, now that we’ve been in Portland for nearly a month, we took the opportunity to chat. I want to share with you our thoughts.

First, for those of you who haven’t had a chance to read The Help, let me give you a short summary.

Synopsis:

It’s 1962 in Jackson, Mississippi and Eugenia – Skeeter – Phelan has just graduated from college. She’s back home living with her parents. Skeeter’s mother would prefer she get married, but Skeeter dreams of becoming a writer.

The only job Skeeter can find is writing a column for the local newspaper. The column is all about household hints which, unfortunately, Skeeter knows nothing about.

Skeeter asks for help from Abileen, a good friend’s maid. As Skeeter spends time with Abileen, she begins to pay close attention to the huge inequities between the races. On the one hand, Abillen, who is black, is good enough to nurse and raise 17 white children, but not good enough to use the household bathroom.

Soon Skeeter is gathering information and writing about the experiences of the black maids. Of course, she needs to do it secretly. She doesn’t want her family or close friends to know what she is doing. In turn the black maids know that, if this information were to be tied to them, it could mean severe punishment and loss of income, and possibly imprisonment or death.

Our reaction to the book was mixed. To me, the story felt personal. I was about the same age as Skeeter in this time period. I taught in an all black school in Kansas City, not that much different from Jackson. Many of my teacher friends and a few parents told me stories similar to those of the maids. The Help put me right back in that time period.

Candice, on the other hand, felt it was hard to have a sense of the story today. For instance, she couldn’t relate to the dangerous aspect of what Skeeter and the maids were doing.

We both liked most of the characters in the story, which is a good thing since the story is very character driven. We both liked the character of Abileen. Candice felt that Abileen was truly the co-author of the book. I felt Abileen was the very heart of the story.

Abileen had a real passion to get all the maids to share their experiences. In turn it gave great hope to her black community. Abileen also was very wise and thoughtful in all relationships and particularly good at dealing with the needs of the children in her care.

Minny was another character that was fun to analyze. Candice was worried for Minny because of the dual threat from her abusive husband as well as her employers. Minny had a very brassy personality but she was still so vulnerable. She was always concerned she would do something that would cause her to lose her job again, and yet her brassy manner and mouth would often get her into trouble.

Minny was an excellent cook and I liked the part of the story where she secretly teaches a new bride to cook so her new husband will think she did the cooking. The poor little bride really needed a friend. While Minny could befriend her, she could never be her friend. Minny always played the maid and resisted being a peer.

We also looked at the acts of racism on the part of the white women in the story. Except for Skitter, they all held subservient positions to their husbands. Wouldn’t they work to stop making their maids subservient to them? These white women didn’t seem to see the connection.

We think Sketter was able to see the inequities the maids experienced because she didn’t want the subservient wife role for herself. Skeeter was already resisting the push to conform to predetermined roles and saw that others were

Overall, we really enjoyed reading The Help. It never dragged and was very compelling. Kathryn Stockett is a very good storyteller. It’s a story that needed to be told and should be read. Candice and I both know people who would have been sympathetic to the behavior of the while women. And, it’s still a mindset that is comfortable for far too many people.

In my opinion, acts of racism have improved since the sixties but it still exists, often in hidden or subtle ways. It’s still important to have ongoing dialogue on the subject. Reading this book can help spur discussion. I’m also very happy to hear they are making a movie based on this book and that, hopefully will create more meaningful conversations. Let’s hope Hollywood does well with this good story.

Look for The Help at your local bookstore. I’ve also seen copies at the library. It’s also available at Amazon.(I am an Amazon Associate.)

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20 Responses to Book Review: The Help

  1. Loved this story, and hope the movie is just as good.

  2. JoAnn says:

    Great review format – so interesting to have two perspectives. The Help is my favorite audiobook, ever! Can’t wait for the movie.

  3. Interesting comments. I would like to see what you all think of “Substitute Me” by Lori Tharps, which I recently finished. It’s sort of a “The Help” for current times, and is just excellent.

  4. kaye says:

    This is an interesting way to do a review. I liked how your two differnt life experiences influenced your take on the book. My girls are in their forties but I don’t think they have a clue about how it really was in the 60’s. It’s too hard to comprehend today how different it was back then.

  5. Ti says:

    I really enjoyed The Help but to me, it was a well told story but sort of skimmed the surface. I love character driven novels though so I was loving all of the characters and can’t wait to see the movie.

  6. Martha says:

    Interesting insights, I think the thing that struck me was how young these women were to wield such “power” and how ingrained their attitudes were. The whole bathroom issue was just horrible. And with all that ingrained mindset, how brave both Skeeter and Abileen were. I really loved this book and could talk about it for a very long time. Thanks for your wonderful review.

  7. Rural View says:

    Since I’m your age, Margot, I had a similar view to yours. I remember all too well the racism and violence of the Civil Rights Movement, so I was scared to death for Abileen and the other maids for the chance they were taking. I got annoyed at how clueless Skeeter could be, but finally she got it. The other women could have come from my home town in the north where subtle racism was the norm. I have my fingers crossed that Hollywood won’t screw up this wonderful story.

  8. Belle says:

    Always enjoy these dual reviews of yours, Margot. Haven’t read The Help yet, but it does sound good.

  9. Bumbles says:

    Oh I so loved this book. I wanted to live with Abileen – she always had just the right words. Her time with her employer’s daughter was so touching and precious. A true beacon of how she was trying to break the mold one step at a time for future generations.

    It never crossed my mind that Skeeter was more in tune with the subservient parallels because she was so independent. I figured it was just because she had forged a strong human bond to her family’s maid and was able to see people without blinders – even her friends that she was ashamed of.

    I am 40 and although I did not grow up during this period of time, I certainly appreciate how terrible it was. My family is from the South. I have relatives who were raised to act and believe and feel racist ways. Thankfully my parents rebelled against those upbringings and instilled education and tolerance into my life.

    Someone is always being repressed. These days in America it is anyone who is not straight. The battle of equality for the gay community is the closest my generation has to what yours went through. I hope the next generation will look back on it with disbelief that anyone could ever be treated less than another.

  10. I haven’t read this book yet, if you can believe that. I agree with you that we need to read about racism (and really, all prejudices) in order to get a dialogue going to try to banish it. I need to resolve to read this book in 2011!

  11. kaye says:

    This sounds like a must read. I enjoy reading books with my daughters as well. It’s so much fun to discuss them together. They actually find a lot of titles for me that I otherwise would never know about. I’ve had “A Homemade Life” on my TBR for over a year. I’d forgotten about it. I’m glad you reminded me of it.

  12. Kay says:

    Margot, I loved this format and thank your daughter for us. Enjoyed hearing both of your opinions. My book group read this in November at my suggestion. I had read an advance copy even before it came out. Took us forever to get it scheduled for the group. Then, don’t you know it, I had to miss the meeting for a dear friend’s funeral. I was sorry, but of course, the funeral came first. In any case, this was a little virtual book group. 🙂

    I’m from the South (Texas of course) and East Texas was much like this atmosphere and in some ways still is. I remember when our bussing started in our schools here in Austin. I was in 9th grade. I found the story very engrossing and did not have any trouble believing the danger to the maids and Skeeter’s friends attitudes. Things are better, but there is still a lot of prejudice unfortunately. Thanks so much for sharing!!

  13. Moved it to the top of my list! Thanks..

  14. Staci says:

    I loved reading about both of your reactions to this story. I still have to read this one and hope to get to it before the movie!

  15. Amused says:

    I loved the comparison between you and your daughters views! Great review format!

  16. Beth F says:

    What an interesting review to see two different generations’ reaction. I bow my head in shame, because I haven’t read this yet.

  17. caite says:

    there are people who have not read this book yet?
    really folks…lol

    I loved this book.

  18. Heather says:

    Great review Margot. I really enjoyed this book as well. The audio production is fantastic!

  19. stacybuckeye says:

    I love this discussion! It was nice to hear both of your opinions, especially where they were both a bit different. I hope you and Candace do this again!

  20. Pingback: Joyfully Retired » Book Review: The Help Books Empire | Books Empire

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