Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Help, Kathryn Stockett

The novel The Help, by Kathryn Stockett was absolutely fantastic. I'll cut right to the chase. :)
The year is 1962 - the place is Jackson, Mississippi. Skeeter (short for Eugenia) is a young white woman living with her parents. She has just graduated from college, and she is the only of her circle of friends, Elizabeth and Hilly, not to be married yet. Skeeter was raised by her black maid, Constantine. Growing up in a house with a very critical mother, Skeeter feels very close and connected to Constantine - and is surprised to come home from school to find her gone. Try as she may, no one is willing to give her any information about what happened. Skeeters voyage through this story will take her from a young unsure woman to a confident person who has outgrown all that she used to find so important. It's a wonderful journey to witness.
Aibileen is a black maid working for one of Skeeter's best friends, Elizabeth. Aibileen is a calm and collected woman, and over the years she has raised many white children. Her current charge is Elizabeth's daughter, Mae Mobley - a darling little girl who Elizabeth practically ignores. Reading the perspective of Aibileen, you can see the demeaning climate of the times, but also the great love that Aibileen - as well as many black maids - have for the children they are raising. Aibileen finds her voice in this novel, and finds that it is very strong.
Aibileen has a close friend, Minny - a black maid who has just been fired by Skeeter's other best friend, Hilly. Minny is a fantastic cook, but she is known throughout the town of Jackson as having the wisest mouth of all The Help. She eventually finds a job working for a woman who is new to Jackson, and having a terrible time edging herself into the social circles. Minny's journey shows not only her strength and bravery, but her softness as well.
These three women are all trying to fit into roles they have outgrown - for a variety of reasons. They come together to begin working on a project that not only creates a stir in the climate of Jackson and beyond, but within themselves as well.
As a reader, you will love the wide range of emotions this book creates. Every few chapters, the book is written from the perspectives of Skeeter, Aibileen, and Minny. I love it when books do this! I get through with one section wondering "What does Minny think of all this?" and then there I am reading from her point of view. You will love the main characters - and trust me, you will have very strong (violent?) feelings toward Hilly. I can't wait for you to meet her.
One of my favorite books is "Little Women" by Louisa May Alcott. There is a line from that story - the exact quote is escaping me right now - that comes after Amy was hit by her teacher at school for being caught with limes. Marmee is obviously angered by this and sits down to write him a letter, to which Jo replies something to the effect of "A letter... that's showing him." This gets discussed later and Meg says that Marmee is brave - in her own way. I kept thinking of this throughout reading The Help. The discrimination and hate that is displayed is enough to make you want to have a violent outburst, yet this is not what these women do. Their project is brave in its own way - quietly brave. You will be very proud of the evolution and strength you see within these characters.
This is Kathryn Stockett's first novel, and I hope she's proud of it because it's fantastic. Make sure to read the afterward - Kathryn Stockett in her own words - where she discusses her own upbringing in Mississippi under the supervision of her family's black maid. Her writing was very well done. For myself, being a visual person, I love books that make me "see" the story happening - and this is exactly how Kathryn Stockett writes. She also does a wonderful job switching the voice of the text as the book switches between character's perspectives. There is a distinctive feel between chapters narrated by Aibileen, and chapters narriated by Minny or Skeeter.

Four wine glasses!

For more information about the author, visit Kathryn Stockett's webpage. I am excited for all of you about to begin this fantastic book! Check it out on Amazon!

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