Sunday, June 6, 2010

Review: The Help by Kathryn Stockett

genre: adult fiction

It would be hard for me to believe that you haven't heard about this book yet. It's "the" book to be reading right now, and because I am a pill, it's the reason I haven't read it - until my book club picked it. And after being #160+ on the waitlist at the library for quite some time, I finally just borrowed a copy.

The place? Jackson, Mississippi.
The time? 1960s
The people? White women and their African-American housekeepers.

What would it have been like to be an African-American living in the hotbed of racial tension, raising the children of people that think you are filthy and unintelligent? Or what if you were white and you came to be disillusioned with the status quo you'd observed all your life? Would you do anything about it?

"Skeeter," the daughter of a white plantation farmer, decides to take her typewriter and begins a secret project involving some of the housekeepers in town. Aibileen is one of these women, sturdy, hard-working and loving to the white babies that she raises. Between her and her smart-mouthed best friend Minny, we see a world where everything is black versus white. We're at the meetings and with the help behind the scenes - seeing things from both points of view.

There are things to like about this book. Some characters are as lovely as others are rotten - there is a depth to our narrating women that shines light on both their strengths as well as their weaknesses. I loved the relationships that were created throughout the book as well as the ones that were thick with time. The racial tension was so palpable, it was a frightening time to do any crossing of the lines between black and white - and there is such a dignity in the larger plot of this story. It's what you would HOPE would happen.

On the other hand, it took me way longer than I'd thought to get into it. Maybe more than 130 pages - if it hadn't been for book club, I might have put it down. The dialect felt forced for a long time and I think more than I had to get used to it, I had to believe it and I'm not sure I ever completely did. Some of the mysteries that really piqued my interest ended up resolving themselves a bit flatly while others were interesting and others cringe-worthy.

Shall I try to sum up these thoughts? I liked it. I wish that some of the people in it were real and were my friends. Some of the plots were more interesting to me than others. I couldn't always do a great job of loosing myself in the story - maybe I just over-thought it. I didn't take it as the gospel truth about what life was like back then, but I appreciated the slice of life it portrayed.

Probably you've already read it :)


Michelle... said...

This was also a book club book for my book club. It generated a good discussion. I really liked it. I liked the unlikely relationships that were developed, especially between Skeeter and Aibileen. The spunk and bravery they showed was a great example for people today. I didn't have the trouble getting into it because I listened to it on CD. It was a fabulous book to listen to. The voices of the main characters were so strong. I loved the dialect and really felt that I knew these women. I have had trouble recommending this book though and I can't totally understand why.

Tricia said...

The cringe-worthy stuff is what kept me from make this a "favorite". Still, I liked this one a lot.

bermudaonion said...

I haven't read this book yet, but several of my friends keep pushing me to. I guess I'm a pill too!

Melissa said...

I'm still going to avoid it until the hype dies down. :-D

melissa @ 1lbr said...

Admitting to being a lover of this book. However, I just wanted to say I liked your "the place, the time, the people" part. Very cool.

Trish said...

I'm reading this one right now and while the dialect doesn't necessarily feel forced to me it is hard for me to get into the rhythm of some of the characters' voices.

Thanks for you honest and level review--seems all I've heard for this one is raving. LIke you I'm reading this for book club--it's hard for me to rush out and grab a book everyone is raving about as well (guess that makes us both pills).

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