Review #50: The Help by Kathryn Sockett
I bought this book ages ago, right around the time movie came out. I avoided reading it once I’d seen the multiple ads and “hype” for the movie that presented it as a light-hearted romp through race relations in 1960s Mississippi. I just was not in the mood for a feel-good book that presented race relations as some kind of fine and dandy and easily resolved issue. Finally though, I got around to reading the book because I was not in the mood for my Kindle, and I must say I am so happy I did.
For those not in the know, The Help is the story of three women in 1960s Mississippi — two black maids (Aibileen and Minny) and one white, recent college graduate (Skeeter). Set right around the time that the Civil Rights movement began, the story is told in alternating chapters from the perspective of each of the main characters. Aibileen doesn’t have much of her own plotline, but she is the person who holds the various threads together. Minny, who has been fired from numerous jobs for being “rude,” finally got a stable job working with the black sheep of the town, Celia. Skeeter wants more from life than to be a wife and mother (as her friends are doing). She wants to be a serious writer, and sees her opportunity after witnessing the inherently racist Hilly demand that their mutual friend, Aibileen’s employer, build a separate toilet for Aibileen to use. This incident gets Skeeter thinking about what really goes on with the maids in Jackson, and so she approaches Aibileen to help her write a book. Needless to say there are some hijinks, some really scary moments where the women fear they will be found out, and some triumphant moments.
The book undoubtedly does best during those scary moments, since that’s what feels the most real and raw and most reflective of what the civil rights movement was all about. The book does not go too much into the movement itself, but it helps us see WHY this movement was so important. The book has some truly funny and entertaining and really satisfying moments too, and these allow us to see why these women persevere and never gave up in their mission. It’s really well-written and structured as well. I’m not going to get into the use of different dialects and accents to distinguish between the maids and Skeeter, except to say I see why this was done. Even Minny, who is better educated and read than Aibileen, had less of a dialect/slang than Aibileen did, yet at NO time was Aibileen portrayed as stupid because of the way she “spoke.” I also don’t want to get into too much of the controversy about having a white woman write THIS book and having Skeeter (a white woman) be the author of the maid’s book in the story itself. Kathryn Sockett can’t help that she got this idea AND happened to be white. She can write whatever she wants as far as I’m concerned. As for Skeeter writing the maid’s stories… well read the book, and you’ll see why that was the only way.
Anyways, I loved this book way more than expected and was truly sad when it was over. It’s the first book I’ve read in a LONG time where I feel I could read it again.