I literally just this afternoon finished reading The Help by Katheryn Stockett and like most people who I know that have read this book I adored it. And I find that I am so impatient to put my thoughts to paper on this one, so I apologize if my review is all over the place and disorganized.
First, for anyone who has been living under a rock and doesn’t know what this crazy-popular award winning book is about, here’s a description from goodreads.com:
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.
I know. This book was so many things and in some ways I’m surprised I finished it so quickly. It was a daunting read at over 400 pages long with a subject matter that is guaranteed to tug at your heart strings while making you feel uncomfortable and discontent and antsy. It had the potential to be too much. The dialect could have driven me away. The subject matter could have been too difficult. But instead this book sucked me in and made me care about each of the characters and root for them and their cause.
I think one of the things that surprised me was how modern the book was even when the “thinking” seemed so ancient. I don’t think I ever realized how recent the civil rights movement really was – how current it still is. It seems like ages ago and yet it wasn’t at all. It felt crazy to be reading about such backwards thinking alongside so many modern advances in society happening in the 60’s. This book probably taught me more about the civil rights movement than all my years of schooling ever did, for better or worse.
I was also surprised at the things I took away from this book that have nothing to do with civil rights. It made me think about subjects like parenting, friendship, marriage and family in lights that were new to me and admittedly at times uncomfortable. It shines an honest, unpretty light on subject matters that I think we all know about but don’t often talk about. But at the root of this story, the bit that keeps you reading and thinking and hoping – is heart. It’s love for people who deserve it and for people who don’t seem like they do. It’s positive stories and uplifting messages in the middle of all the awfulness. The rainbows after the storms and the diamonds in the rough are really what makes this book.
I also appreciated how well rounded the characters are. While there are “heroes” and “villains” – nobody is 100% good or bad here. They are normal people who are good at some things and bad at others and ignorant in some ways and brilliant in others. They are real. So while you may root for some more than others, I think you find yourself hoping that the best might happen for everyone in the end, except maybe Hilly Holbrook.
This is without a doubt the best book I’ve read so far this year and definitely goes on my list of favorite books that must be spoken about with reverence and awe and “go get a copy for yourself right this very minute!” kind of certainty. I loved it. I hope you will, too.