The Help by Kathryn Stockett

As I’ve mentioned before, I always find it difficult to write about a book that so many people have already read. I feel as if there’s nothing new I could possibly say and that nobody will want to hear about it yet again anyway (which I know is not true – there is no book that absolutely everybody in the world has read, however much it sometimes seems that way). But at least I’ve read The Help now and can see why it’s been getting so much attention. And I have to agree with all the bloggers who’ve been giving this book such glowing reviews because it really does deserve it.

The Help is told in the form of alternating narratives by three women living in Jackson, Mississippi during the early 1960s. Two of them, Aibileen and Minny, are black women working as maids, or ‘helps’, for white families. The third is Eugenia Phelan, nicknamed Skeeter because she’s ‘long and leggy and mosquito-thin’. In contrast to the first two narrators, Skeeter is a white woman from a rich family. Skeeter dreams of becoming a writer and convinces Aibileen and Minny to help her write a book throwing new light on the life of a black maid in Jackson.

I loved all three of the narrators, who were each given very different and distinctive voices of their own. I thought it was impressive that Stockett could write so convincingly from the perspectives of three such different people. The intelligent, dignified Aibileen was a lovely, engaging narrator and probably my favourite. But Minny was an equally captivating character – she was outspoken and funny and in some ways felt the most real. I liked Skeeter too but found that she didn’t come to life for me as vividly as the other two. I found it hard to believe that she hadn’t noticed how cruel and prejudiced her best friends were until she reached the age of twenty two (and also hard to believe that she would have been friends with people like them in the first place).

The Help is a powerful and thought-provoking read which raises a number of issues relating to various aspects of racial discrimination, segregation and the Civil Rights Movement, though I’m happy to leave it to people with more knowledge of these subjects to discuss them in the depth they deserve. Judging it purely on its merits as a novel, this was one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read this year. I was alternately enraged by the prejudice and injustice the black maids were forced to endure, amused by the antics of Minny and the other characters, intrigued by the well-meaning but very eccentric Celia Foote, and filled with loathing for Hilly Holbrook, one of the vilest characters ever!

13 thoughts on “The Help by Kathryn Stockett

  1. Aarti says:

    I always hesitate to review books like this, too, though I think reviewing after some of the hype has died down is a good idea. I love the cover of your book! It’s very descriptive. I ate this book up when I read it but I also read some discussions about it and the way characters are perceived (i.e., why do only the Blacks have heavy accents, when the whites would have spoken with Southern twang, too?) that really made me think about the book and the story more deeply, too. Not that I dislike it now, but I think I can see why it created some controversy.

    • Helen says:

      I haven’t read many of the discussions, as I wanted to read the book itself first, but I can understand why it would be controversial. I also wondered why Skeeter didn’t have a Southern accent. And I like this cover too! I prefer it to the other one.

  2. Jessica says:

    I have had this book on my shelf for freaking ages and I have no idea if I will review it when I do eventually get around to reading it but I’m sure I will enjoy it.

  3. Jo says:

    I enjoyed The Help, and actually stumbled across it before the hype for a change. It is certainly a book that stays with you.

    I was equally drawn to the frustration of the black maids and their treatment but also to the power and pride they held in their own lives. It will be interesting to see how the film version comes out like – I fear it may be very diluted for fear of upsetting anyone. Which detracts from the point of the book!

    Lovely review.

    • Helen says:

      I’m not sure when the film will be released in the UK, but I’d be interested to see what it’s like too. I hope it’s not too different from the book!

  4. Karen K. says:

    I recently reread this for a book discussion and enjoyed it just as much the second time. Some people in the group found it extremely contrived but it still really resonated with me. I look forward to the movie this summer, there are some really talented actresses.

    We did note the difference in the US versus the UK covers. I think the UK cover really tells what the story is about; the US cover is just three little birds and the title. I’m not sure why they’re so different — maybe the US publishers didn’t think people would buy it if they knew what it was really about? Ridiculous. The cover above is much better, the other one is so generic.

    • Helen says:

      I’m sure this would be a great book group read. I hope you were able to have an interesting discussion about it! And I think the cover with the birds looks nice but you would never be able to guess what the story was about. I do prefer the cover above.

  5. BookLover says:

    I agree with every point in this, BUT I feel like since Skeeter is still a very young woman, she is just realizing what the world is for these “colored maids.” And I mean when your parents, and your grandparents, and your great-grandparents were all prejudice and basically stuffing this idea into Skeeter’s brain, she wouldn’t think it was wrong because it’s what your born with. Btw, if this doesn’t sound as sophisticated as the rest of you it is because I am still very young. Not quite a teen yet. 🙂

    • Helen says:

      That’s a good point, BookLover. Maybe it just took Skeeter a long time to start thinking for herself and questioning things.

      And don’t worry, by the way – your comment sounds sophisticated enough to me!

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