by Kathryn Stockett
*** 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.