Title: The Help
Author: Kathryn Stockett
# of Pages: 544
It seems like about once a year, everyone’s buzzing about some hit book. Last year, it was The Hunger Games, before that, there was Twilight, The Da Vinci Code (which I still haven’t been able to convince myself to read), and, of course, Harry Potter. Generally the reading population at large isn’t too far off the mark–most bestsellers are, in fact, highly pleasurable and worthwhile reads. There have been notable exceptions to this, obviously (but if I have to write down the dang series again, y’all don’t know me very well). But there I go again, off on my usual tangent. The point is, this year, the literary buzz was all about The Help, and, as usual, I didn’t want to be left out of the tight-knit reading club of America (you didn’t know it existed? Well it does people. It does). I got an email one day telling me that Christmas had come early (Barnes & Noble was offering 50% off all bestsellers and free shipping), and my own copy of Stockett’s novel arrived an excruciatingly long and torturous five days later.
Sometimes when I start a new book, I’ll play a “getting-to-know-you” game with it—I’ll put it out on the most prominent shelf to look at or even (if there’s already a good relationship forming) straight on my nightstand. I’ll thumb through the pages, read the book jacket several times, and then take a few good whiffs of the new paper. Then I’ll start in slow, reading only a few pages at first, shaking each character’s hands and staring at them for awhile in my mind before continuing on. Then, when I feel like we’ve gotten to the point where I’ll remember their name the next time they walk up to me (unlike that one coworker who I can just never recall his name), I start to spend more time with them; I start to get emotionally attached.
My comfort level with Aibileen, Skeeter, and Minny (the main characters of The Help), didn’t take long—a few chapters at most. For any who have not integrated themselves into the tight-knit reading club of America, The Help is set in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960’s. It tells the story of a town that is sharply divided between the middle-class white and the working-class black—a town sharply segregated, despite advances in civil rights everywhere else in the country. The story revolves around one pivotal idea formulated by Miss Skeeter–an idea that would enrage the city and be potentially life-threatening to those involved. Miss Skeeter decides to write a book about the black women who wait on the white families, who dedicate their lives to raising up and caring for children who will never be their own, and who might even grow up and mistreat them. Skeeter’s book starts with an interview of one brave maid (Aibileen), who makes the decision to speak out. But, as Aibileen and Skeeter start to convince more and more scared maids to come out and speak, they encounter fierce opposition—opposition that could not only cost them their jobs, but even threaten their lives and the lives of those they love. But the women still speak on.
I really was impressed by this book. I was impressed by the well-rounded characters, I was impressed by how the plot made me sad to put the book down at night (and, since I didn’t sometimes, I sure went to work tired more than once), and I was especially impressed that this was Stockett’s first novel. The book had a distinct message, but it didn’t direct it at you in an in-your-face way, which I liked. Something Stockett does that is truly impressive, though, is that she makes a very heavy subject matter into something that is inspiring, yet likable and even funny at times. It takes a very skilled writer to do that, in my opinion. By the time I was about a third of the way in, I already loved it. And that’s saying something.
If anyone is looking for a compelling read that isn’t just “fluff” but manages to entertain at the same time, then this is it. Tight-knit-reading-group, you were right again. This time, at least.
My Rating: Five Stars. For sure.