Monday, December 14, 2009
The Help (Kathryn Stockett, 2009)
The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, is the “it” novel of the moment and currently holding at number eight on the New York Times Bestseller list. The novel has been on the list for 35 weeks and recently came to my attention. I am normally a fan of nonfiction books but was intrigued by the praise of The Help from friends and wonderful book reviews. This was a book that I thoroughly enjoyed and I was sad to say goodbye to the rich, multidimensional characters
The Help is told from the perspective of three characters, Miss Skeeter Phelan, and two African American maids, Minny and Aibileen. Miss Skeeter is a recent graduate of Ole Miss University with an English degree. Her education has made her question the norms of the rural 1960’s town in which she grew up. Although Skeeter is accepted by her friends into the local Junior League and country club; she is ultimately an outsider in part due to her unconventional looks and her educated, open mind. Skeeter decides in her quest to become a real writer to interview the maids in her town. The chapters skip from Skeeter’s point of view to the vivacious, hotheaded, Minny and the authentic voice of the novel, Aibileen. The conflict is created by the extreme danger in Skeeter’s decision to interview the maids regarding the real treatment of domestic help in 1960’s Mississippi. Skeeter must attempt clandestine meetings with the maids in the black quarter and she ultimately writes about the private lives of her white best friends. In the end, Aibeleen becomes Skeeter’s staunchest ally and truthfulness prevails over bigotry.
I read most of the book on a five hour car trip and feel changed by Stockett’s poignant, yet ironic prose. I hope she will do a sequel because I’m not quite ready to let these characters go.
*FYI: Kathryn Stockett grew up in Jackson, Miss. with an absent mother and a beloved maid named Demtrie. The maid was her primary cargiver and the love of her life. This book is a dedication to this most influential person in her life.