Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Help

The Help
Author: Kathryn Stockett
Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam, 2009
464 pages

As someone who was born during the Civil Rights era and raised in the South, I grew up hearing stories (from different perspectives) about what things were like back then. This is a period in history that has always fascinated me, and I've always gotten a great deal out of reading books and watching movies about it. That said . . .

The Help takes place in early 1960s Jackson, Mississippi and is "narrated" by three characters: Aibileen, Minny, and Skeeter. Skeeter is a young white woman who has recently graduated from college and wants to be a writer. Aibileen and Minny are black women who work in white homes doing the cooking, cleaning, and often the raising of children (Aibileen, for example, has raised 17 white children, and Skeeter herself was raised by a domestic helper named Constantine, who moved away without saying goodbye - this weights heavily on Skeeter's mind.)

Aibileen is in her fifties, single, and has recently suffered the loss of her only child, a young adult son who'd had quite a bit of academic potential. Thirty-something Minny is married to Leroy, who beats her when he's drunk. They have several children ranging in ages from toddler to teenager. Skeeter lives at home with her parents on a farm that her mother refers to as "the plantation."

For quite some time, Skeeter's been friends with a group of young women who are now the leaders of a Jackson societal group, led by Miss Hilly (who has to be one of the meanest beeyotches in recent literary history). The more Skeeter observes, the more she realizes the inequities of Jackson life. Her growing awareness leads her to form a relationship with Aibileen and Minny, which results in the three of them collaborating to write a book about race relations in Jackson that will shake that city's foundations. As the three narrators get to know each other (and some of the other characters such as the cold-hearted young mother Elizabeth and the insecure Celia, who married her way to the "right side" of the tracks, so to speak), they find that they have a lot more in common than they ever realized.

You'll laugh, you'll want to cry, and you'll really want to hit somebody (a couple of characters, I mean) when you read The Help.

Thanks to my friends Q and L for recommending The Help.  I don't often say "everyone should read this!" but in The Help's case, I really do think so. In fact, I'll go so far as to state that this book is the To Kill a Mockingbird of our generation. I'm not really doing it justice with this lame book review, and for that, I apologize. But run, don't walk, to get your copy . . . and start reading it today.