Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Help

The Help. Kathryn Stockett. 2009. Thorndike Press. 722 pages.

August 1962
Mae Mobley was born on a early Sunday morning in August, 1960. A church baby we like to call it. Taking care a white babies, that's what I do, along with all the cooking and the cleaning. I done raised seventeen kids in my lifetime. I know how to get them babies to sleep, stop crying, and go in the toilet bowl before they mamas even get out a bed in the morning.

Have you read The Help yet? What did you think?! I thought it was one of the best books ever. It was incredibly intense, very emotional, fascinating, disturbing, thought-provoking and unforgettable. I could go on and on. It's just one of those books that I know I'll never forget. One of those books that I just have to recommend.

If you're looking for great storytelling, you'll find it in The Help. If you're looking for great characters--very well-developed, unforgettable characters--you'll find it in The Help. If you want an absorbing, fascinating, can't-put-down book, you'll find it in The Help.

The Help is set in Jackson, Mississippi, in the early sixties. To be precise, 1962-1964. The story is narrated by three characters. Two black maids, Aibileen, who works for Miss Elizabeth Leefolt, and Minny, who works for Miss Celia Foote, and a young white woman, Miss Skeeter, who dreams of becoming a journalist or novelist. (Miss Skeeter's 'real' name is Eugenia Phelan.) Each narrator has their  own story to tell. Each is very human, very memorable, very unique. Each voice matters in The Help. In fact, that could be one of the themes perhaps, that each person has a story to tell, but not every person has the freedom to tell it--well, not without taking risks.

So, one day Miss Skeeter is playing bridge with her friends. She is shocked by the turn of conversation. Is shock the right word? Maybe not. Perhaps made uncomfortable is a better fit. The disturbing conversation is about how horrible, how dreadful it is that Miss Leefolt does not have a separate toilet for her maid, Aibileen, to use. How horrible it is--the group is actually repulsed--by the idea that a black woman uses the guest toilet. Miss Hilly Holbrook, the bossiest woman in town--take my word for it, wants not only to help her friend out, but wants to start a movement (get an initiative) so that everyone will build separate bathrooms--in their garage, in their sheds, etc--for the help to use. As I said, Miss Skeeter is uncomfortable with this. It's not like she knows Aibileen well, though she does see her--maids aren't invisible to her like they seem to be to others. But the way the ladies are talking--with Aibileen in the room--makes her squirm. She begins to ask herself, how does Aibileen really feel about this? Does this talk of her (and other colored people) being disease-ridden make her angry?

About this time, Miss Skeeter is trying to find a writing job. She's very ambitiously written to a publisher in New York, Harper & Row, I believe. And a very kind, very generous editor has taken a few minutes to tell her the truth. She just doesn't have the experience needed, not yet anyway. If she wants to be somebody, she's going to need a big story. She's going to need to be creative and tell a story like no one else. Writing about the experiences of maids isn't her first idea. But it is her best idea. If only she can get volunteers for interviews.

But where can she find maids willing to talk to her about their lives? About their experiences--past and present--in working for white families. How can they trust her? Wouldn't they be risking their jobs and maybe even their lives by talking to her?

Aibileen and Minny are two of the women that are brave enough to work with Miss Skeeter. And between the two of them they might just encourage more to join the secret project. But will it be worth it in the end?!

This book is so wonderful. It really is. It's so intense, so powerful, so well written. Each of the narrators is so well done, so unique, so persuasive. I cared about each one. I could write so much about each woman, each story. But not without spoiling it, not without saying too much. It's just there is so much to say!!!

Here is just one of the dramatic decision-points in the novel. Miss Skeeter has to choose whether to publish this item in the League's newsletter. She's put it off 'accidentally' for many months. But now it's time to make her choice...

Hilly Holbrook introduces the Home Help Sanitation Initiative. A disease preventative measure. Low-cost bathroom installation in your garage or shed, for homes without such an important fixture.
Ladies, did you know that:
  • 99% of all colored diseases are carried in the urine
  • Whites can become permanently disabled by nearly all of these diseases because we lack immunities coloreds carry in their darker pigmentation
  • Some germs carried by whites can also be harmful to coloreds too
Protect yourself. Protect your children. Protect your help.
From the Holbrooks, we say, You're welcome! (257)
I loved this novel. I really LOVED it. And I definitely recommend it!!!

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Ebook Men said...

Thanks for this review. I glad to read this.

Marg said...

Wasn't this such a fabulous read!

Sarah the Cat Lady said...

This is the first review of your's I have read, and I must say I thought it was really good! I hope to be reading more of these in the future!

Anonymous said...

I am also reading The Help right now and I was well love it! It is a great book!

CharmedLassie said...

I picked this up in a bookshop yesterday and unfortunately put it back down again. Won't be making that mistake next time!