Monday, March 31, 2014

Book Report Monday: The Help

Title: The Help

Author: Kathryn Stockett

Genre: Fiction

Synopsis: Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.

Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.

Minny, Aibileen's best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody's business, but she can't mind her tongue, so she's lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.

Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed. (from Goodreads)

Why did I pick it up?: I've had this on my bookshelf for four years. I had heard mixed reviews and wasn't sure if I would like it, but I vowed to read books I had before buying too many more.

My Review: I was surprised by how much I liked The Help since I'd been avoiding it for so long. The story was interesting and accessible. Each of the narrators had a unique voice and struggle. While I wanted Skeeter to interview the maids, I was scared for all of them and understood why they were hesitant. Perhaps the scariest thing is that the novel is set in 1962 and one of Skeeter's friends is pushing for segregated bathrooms inside white homes that employ colored help. 1962 does not feel very long ago, but it should seem impossible that maids could have been forced to use a separate bathroom than their white employers in our recent history. Unfortunately, it's not unrealistic.

Aside from the obvious racial tensions in the story, The Help is about three women struggling with their identities and independence.

Skeeter begins waking up when she returns from college and finds a new maid has replaced the one who helped raise her. It's a profound loss and brings a new focus to the community and friends she's always known. Something is wrong with life in Jackson and Skeeter wonders why she's the only one who notices. Until she realizes she isn't the only one, though she may be the only white one to care about the relationship between whites and blacks.

Aibileen has spent her life raising white children who love her until they reach a particular age and start to treat her like the help. Her own son, died and left her questioning why she continues to work hard for people who will never be friends or family. Skeeter's return is the nudge Aibileen needs to take charge and try to make a difference. Along the way she realizes she has talents other than cleaning and child-rearing.

Minny has always kept a barricade between her and her employers, convinced that none of the white folks will ever be her friend. When she gets her new job, cooking and cleaning for a childless couple who don't even host parties, she finds herself bored. Eventually she grows curious about the woman who hired her and who, against all the odds, Minny cares about. Her employer however has bizarre habits that have Minny ready to quit no matter how much she needs the money.

Now I just need to watch the movie and compare.

My Recommendation: It's a bestseller for a reason, I think most readers will enjoy this. Of course, it's targeted toward women.

For Next Time: The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman


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