Ambassador of Books ~ Book Club Madam ~ Blogger Gal

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Help

The Help
by Kathryn Stockett
444 pages

*** About the Book ***

In Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960s, white people and black people don’t mix. There are strict rules about contact between races and breaking those rules results in big trouble for everyone. Despite that, despite the danger it could place them all in, three women come together to tell the truth.

Skeeter, a wealthy, white, college graduate, is disappointing her family by not being engaged already. She wants to be a journalist and is on the outs with her society friends. She’s also desperately missing her beloved maid, Constantine, who left under mysterious circumstances while she was away at school.

Aibileen, a single black woman, has spent almost her entire life working as a maid to a series of white families. She recently lost her only son to a work-related accident. Her new goal is to instill self-respect and an attitude of color-blindness in the little white girl whose family she currently works for.

Minny, a married black woman with several children, has also worked as a maid her entire life. She’s lost many jobs because has a tendency to talk back to her white employers, and she’s made an enemy of the most powerful white woman in town.

These three very different women, along with several others, work together in secret to write a book about the maid’s perspective on the relationship between white families and their “help” – a topic that is simply not talked about in Jackson in polite society.

*** Why I Read It ***

Two ladies in my book club nominated it for this month’s book and I couldn’t have been happier. I’ve had this one on my shelf for MONTHS, ever since all hearing all the buzz when it first came out. Finally, an excuse to pick it up!

*** My Thoughts ***

Can I say how much I truly loved this book? I mean, I expected it to be good, but I really, really loved it. The world of the South in the 1960s couldn’t be farther outside of my experience but I felt like I understood the characters motivations and could almost feel the weight of the society’s rules pressing in on me.

The story is told from three points of view, Aibileen’s, Minny’s, and Skeeter’s. Each character had a distinct voice; it was easy to tell who was narrating at any given point. Aibileen’s voice was the strongest in my opinion and Skeeter’s was the weakest. Not to say that I didn’t like Skeeter, but her character wasn’t nearly as developed or powerful as Aibileen’s or even as Minny’s.

My book club is getting together to discuss this on March 20. I’m really looking forward to hearing everyone’s opinions – I think it will be a great meeting!

*** A Tangent ***

My mom is a great storyteller and is always sharing stories about her growing-up years. When I told her about THE HELP, it immediately reminded her of a story that she’d told me before. It’s a quick one so I’ll share it with you here.

My mom was a teenager in Brooklyn, New York in the 1960s. Her school was mostly African-American, with a mix of many other ethnicities. As a white girl, she was definitely in the minority. She remembers hearing about the civil rights workers who were killed in Mississippi in 1964. Two of them were from New York, and she remembers being completely shocked when the report came on the news. It was like another world down South compared to her life in New York. One year her family drove to Florida to visit her grandmother. Somewhere along the Southern portion of the drive, she had to go to the bathroom desperately. Her family finally stopped at a restaurant and she was directed to go around the back to find the bathrooms. She said that she could barely hold it anymore and went running around the building as quickly as she could. When she came to the bathroom she stopped dead in her tracks. A big sign hung on the wall saying “Whites Only”. She was literally in shock and couldn’t move. She doesn’t remember going into the bathroom at all, although she knows she must have. All she remembers is thinking “What if I was black? What would I do? What if I was black? What if I was black?!” over and over. She was fourteen at the time and still remembers this like it was yesterday.

*** Interview ***

I found this interview fascinating, but don't watch it if you haven't read the book yet as there are minor spoilers. It's about an hour long so you may want to put it on and listen while you're doing other things (like sorting through your Google Reader?!). [If you are reading this through another site you'll have to click through to my blog to view the video.]

Watch CBS News Videos Online

*** Your Thoughts ***

It seems like everyone and their mother has already read this book but I know that there are still some people who have not. If you'd like more opinions on this book before giving it a shot, here are some other reviews you should check out.


Elisabeth said...

I reviewed The Help as well...

As luck would have it, I just attending a reading & signing with Stockett last night. She is precious! So petite! And, Dreamworks just picked up the screenplay (which was written by one of Stockett's childhood friends from Mississippi).

hcmurdoch said...

I am SO behind on not reading this book! Tonight I am taking it to my book group to see if I can convince them to read it.

Kay said...

I'm so glad that you enjoyed this book, Heather. When I finished reading it last year, I knew I had read an important book. I've been trying to get it arranged for my book group since then, but the hold list at the library is still way too long. This fall is my plan. Hope your discussion is great.

Susan said...

I don't know anyone who doesn't love this book, me included. It's wonderful!

Your mom's story is really interesting - what a wake up call. It's crazy that things like that ever happened.

Jen - devourer of books said...

Thanks for the link! I loved this book too and, oh my gosh, you MUST do an audio reread at some point, because the audio version is absolutely phenomenal. A different woman narrates each woman's section, and they really bring the characters to life.

Bonnie said...

I loved this book and it is definitely on my top list of favorite books. I read it soon after it came out and my book club discussed it a few months ago and it was a wonderful discussion. It is one that I could re-read but after reading Jen's post...I may want to listen to the book. I'm going to come back to watch the video interview, it looks interesting.

Valerie said...

Your mom sounds like a cool person!

I am one of those who still have not read this book, and I admit your review has finally convinced me that I need to sooner, rather than later!

Vasilly said...

As I type this, I'm listening to The Help on audio! It's a great book and you wrote a great review of it. I'm glad you shared your mother's story with us.

A Bookshelf Monstrosity said...

I'm glad this book lived up to all the hype for you! I read it before my book blogger days, thank goodness. I loved it as well.

Alyce said...

I absolutely loved this book too, and I haven't heard of anyone who disliked it.

Your mother's story is incredible. I grew up in an area (Pacific NW) without much racial diversity, so I think it's fascinating (and heartbreaking) to read about the civil rights era in the south.

kikiv68 said...

Thank you for such an awesome review and sharing your mother's stories. I loved the book and could not put it down!

Kailana said...

I had this out from the library and didn't have time to read it. Luckily I got a copy at the second hand store the other day, so I am looking forward to reading it!

softdrink said...

Yay! I'm glad you loved this one as much as the rest of it. It should make for a great discussion!

Heather J. said...

Elisabeth - If she is anything like in her interview, I'm sure she's wonderful to listen to!

hcmurdoch - I hope you can convince them. :)

Kay - I got lucky and snagged a copy from before it got too popular.

Susan - You're right, I haven't heard anyone who didn't like this book.

Jen - I'll definitely check out the audio at some point - you KNOW I'm a huge audiobook fan.

Bonnie - I hope my club's discussion turns out just as well!

Valerie - Thanks. :)

Vasilly - I've heard the audio is great!

A Bookshelf Monstrosity - Glad you enjoyed it.

Alyce - I've heard there were/are racial tensions involving Asian immigrants in the Pacific NW - is that something you've seen?

kikiv68 - Thanks for coming to read my review!

Kailana - Ooh, do read it soon, you won't be disappointed.

softdrink - I'm really looking forward to it. :)

Cindy said...

I just picked this up and can't wait to start it!

Dreamybee said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed this book too! Wow, that story about your mother-it sounds like that moment really stuck with her and probably shaped her throughout her life. What a poignant life lesson!

Suey said...

This is our book club book for May and I can't wait!

Heather J. said...

Cindy - I'm sure you'll enjoy it!

Dreamybee - Yes, it is still very vivid in her mind to this day.

Suey - Cool - it will be fun to compare our clubs' discussions!

Dave said...

Both my wife and daughter loved this book too -- there were a lot of tears shed over it. They've been pressing me to read it, and I'll have to jump in soon.

Jessica (The Bluestocking Society) said...

I'm so glad that you liked this book. Thanks for the shout out!

Anna said...

Glad to see you loved it. My copy is waiting patiently for me to finish a few other books first. Then I want to lock myself away for a day and read it. (Yeah, like that'll ever happen.)

Thanks for sharing your mom's story. It certainly offers some food for thought.

Diary of an Eccentric

Heather J. said...

Dave - It is a well written book and I think you'll appreciate it.

Jessica - You are quite welcome. :)

Anna - Thanks!

Rebecca Reid said...

I stayed up to an embarassing late hour last night finishing this book. I truly expected to be underwhelmed by it. (The hype always makes me suspicious) But I really enjoyed it. I'm looking forward to my book discussion next week!

Heather J. said...

Rebecca - I know what you mean about the hype - it can really ruin a book - but in this case, I think the book was really that good. :)

Linda Bacon said...

This book is fantastic on audio ... got it from There are three readers,one for each main character. With the accents, it is so much better than reading it!!! The actress who reads Minnie will also play her in the upcoming movie.

Heather J. said...

Linda - I've heard great things about this audio book!

Blog Widget by LinkWithin