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Monday, 24 October 2011

Review: The Help

Author: Kathryn Stockett

Release date: 13 May 2010 (this edition)
Genre: Historical Fiction
Target audience: Adult
UK Publisher: Penguin

Summary from Amazon:

Enter a vanished and unjust world: Jackson, Mississippi, 1962. Where black maids raise white children, but aren’t trusted not to steal the silver... There’s Aibileen, raising her seventeenth white child and nursing the hurt caused by her own son’s tragic death; Minny, whose cooking is nearly as sassy as her tongue; and white Miss Skeeter, home from College, who wants to know why her beloved maid has disappeared. Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny. No one would believe they’d be friends; fewer still would tolerate it. But as each woman finds the courage to cross boundaries, they come to depend and rely upon one another. Each is in a search of a truth. And together they have an extraordinary story to tell...


First things first. The Help is an adult book. You know what this means! Yes, it was time for the staff book group again. And wait for it.... At last we chose an absolutely brilliant read that everyone enjoyed. EVERYONE! Holy macaroni! I hope this is the start of the brilliant books and not a one-off fluke. Anyway...

The Help is set in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960s. It tells the story of black maids working for white women, raising their children, cleaning their homes, keeping their secrets.

There are three main characters who each tell part of the story. At the start of the chapters, it tells you who is speaking. There is Aibileen and she opens the story. Then there is Minny – Aibileen’s friend. They are both maids. Then there is Skeeter who is the daughter of a white woman. Skeeter was raised by her mother’s maid Constantine.

Aibileen is a single woman. Years after her son Treelore’s death, she is still trying to come to terms with his loss. She gives her love to Mae Mobley, the daughter of her employer. She cares so deeply for Mae and one of the most touching themes explored through the novel is the relationship between the “help” and the children they take care of.

Minny is a mother and a wife. As a character, she is an unstoppable force. She also doesn’t know how to hold her tongue and over her working career has burned nearly every bridge with possible employers in the town. Minny is a law unto herself but as the reader you admire her wit, her bravado and her authority. There is also a well-hidden but vulnerable side to Minny. In the black community both Aibileen and Minny are hugely respected.

And then there is Skeeter, who is no less brave than Aibileen or Minny but who has a life blessed with privilege. Skeeter is also struggling with social constraints. Her mother wants nothing more for her than to look pretty, marry a wealthy and respectable man and not raise any eyebrows in the community.

All three have such a powerful story to tell and I can promise you that this book is unputdownable!!!!

There is a growing tension in Jackson. There have been lynchings and beatings as the issue of segregation gains political momentum. White people are actively oppressing black people. They use violence to instil fear into their hearts. The white people who believe that segregation is wrong and actively campaign against are treated as social pariahs, they are persecuted and they also suffer violence.

There is such passion in this book and so much love. Every emotion is convincing. The Help had me holding my breath as I turned the pages. You see, the three main characters make a choice to have their voice heard and in doing so risk everything they have to try to begin to change the status quo. Their courage is heart-warming and inspiring and my heart was in my mouth every time they put their lives on the line.

The Help will take hold of you. It is the type of book where the ending really matters to you. I am so glad I read it. Even if you don’t read adult novels, you really should read this. You will not be disappointed. It will move you.


Cliona said...

I on;t usually read adult novels, but I read this and fell in love with it, and it is now one of my favourite books. I think the characters strength and bravery made it so fantastic! And you're right it was unputdownable, I read it in about three days (which is fast for me!)

junipersjungle.com said...

Great review, this has been on my wishlist for ages, I really need to get around to reading it.

Vicki Dickinson said...

I've been tempted to buy/read this for ages...I think my mind is made up now. I'm feeling a tendency towards mixing up reading a bit more with adults books after reading a couple of brilliant ones recently.

Fiona said...

Usually I agree with you but this time I couldn't disagree more. The characters in this were so stereotypical. I wanted to shout at it. Not a good reading experience for me - ugh!

Library Mice said...

I read this for our grown-up book group and absolutely LOVED it. It had been a long time since I had enjoyed an adult book so much. We are planning to go and see the movie all together when it comes out, it will be interesting to see how it compares!