The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Three ordinary women are about to take one extraordinary step….
Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.
Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.
Minny, Aibileen’s best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody’s business, but she can’t mind her tongue, so she’s lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.
Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.
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As a huge Emma Stone fan, I was so excited to see that she was going to be in the movie adaptation of The Help. And then I realized The Help was still on my TBR list since I was on an epic waiting list at the public library. In fact, it was getting to the point that I thought I might not get to read the book before the movie came out! Thankfully, I got the call the other day and I was able to devour The Help in a single evening because it’s just that fantastic.
The Help is written from three perspectives: Skeeter’s, Abileen’s, and Minny’s. It was a little jarring at first, particularly since I didn’t realize it right away (it’s marked at the top of the first page of the chapter when there’s a switch) but it brings a lot to the story, being able to have these three different sides of the same story. They each embark on the book for different reasons, and each have a personality and history that distinguishes her from the other two narrators. It’s hard for me to say which lady is my favourite because they all have characteristics that I enjoyed. I identified the most with Skeeter, perhaps because she grows the most over the course of the novel, but I thought both Abileen and Minny were also excellent characters.
One thing I didn’t know about The Help before I started reading it is that the chapters written from the point of view of Abileen and Minny are written in dialect. As a linguist, I often find this jarring but Kathryn Stockett does a good job of creating an African American sensibility for the most part. She doesn’t capture all of the features of the dialect but I think she’s generally done a good job. I didn’t love it since it did sometimes seem inauthentic but it did help with the characterization.
Overall, I found The Help to be a thoroughly enjoyable story. The characters are so endearing, the story is believable and genuine, and there’s a real sense of the time and place infused in the novel. I find it hard to believe that this is Kathryn Stockett’s first novel because it’s just so lovely and polished. I look forward to seeing what she comes up with next.
Interestingly, Entertainment Weekly just published a quick article about Kathryn Stockett’s plans for a second novel.
Finally, in case you’re interested, here’s the movie trailer. The characters look very much as I expected, though I thought Hilly should have a bigger butt since there were so many mentions of her bottom heaviness in the novel.