The Help by Kathryn Stockett

The Help‘The Help’ by Kathryn Stockett tells the story of Skeeter Phelan, a young white woman from Jackson, Mississippi who decides to write a book documenting the experiences of Aibileen, Minny and other black maids who work for white families.  Set in the early 1960s during the Civil Rights movement, the maids are expected to look after the children, cook and clean yet they are persecuted because they are ‘colored’.  It is a story that needs to be told.

I saw the film quite recently and enjoyed it but my mum said she thought the original book was better and lent it to me this week.  Unsurprisingly, the film version is more saccharine than the book but the adaptation was still well done and the plot wasn’t altered too much.  Moreover, watching the film beforehand and knowing how the story ends did not hinder my enjoyment of this excellent book.

After tackling ‘Wolf Hall’ last week, ‘The Help’ felt like a breeze to read.  Stockett has constructed her characters and their alternating viewpoints with exceptional skill and successfully avoids being too sentimental and mawkish over the still-sensitive issue of racism in the Southern states.   The story is mostly well paced and convincingly structured but Stockett’s real strength lies in her ability to perfectly balance anger and optimism when dealing with such an emotional topic.  In spite of the highly improbable scenario of the maids agreeing to tell their stories about working for white families to Skeeter in such dangerous circumstances, everything from her description of the setting of the Deep South in the 1960s to the voices of each of the characters feels effortlessly authentic.  This is probably thanks to Stockett’s own experiences growing up in Mississippi and her close relationship with her family’s maid which she movingly describes in the postscript of the novel.

‘The Help’ is both poignant and humorous in equal measure and offers the reader an insightful view of life in Mississippi at that time.  Well worth a read.

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10 Comments

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10 responses to “The Help by Kathryn Stockett

  1. I saw the movie & added the book to my ever growing TBR list.
    It’s sad to say that fifty years later racism continues, even in our little corner of the world in NZ.
    Great post. I look forward to reading it.

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  2. nerdybookreviews

    Ohhh, heard about the movie, potentially thought about their being a book, but never looked into either. It does sound like a very good novel.

    I look forward to more of your reviews.

    I tagged you for the Liebster Award here: http://nerdybookreviews.wordpress.com/2012/07/02/liebster-blog-award-2012/

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  3. Agree with you that it was a very easy read. The most memorable part for me was the trick played by one of the maids on the woman who thought she could control everyone’s lives and came home to find her lawn strewn with some very strange plants. I won’t describe the scene in detail because it will spoil the surprise for other readers……but it’s hilarious.

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  4. I enjoyed reading this book. The plot is well paced and keeps you trying to guess what will happen. I also felt Stockett did well to recreate the tensions of the South in the 60s. The author also makes you care about the fate of the maids and does an excellent job of creating likable, realistic characters, plus some nasty ones. Definitely a great book to take on holiday.

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  5. I agree that this book reads very easily. Since I read it I have been puzzling about whether or not Kathryn Stocket’s story does not in some way enhance cultural stereotyping rather than criticise them (there’s lots of reading on this to be found online). Since then, I’m starting to feel a little uncomfortable with how much I did enjoy reading The Help. But I guess, in a way, it can serve as an enjoyable introductory book to an important wider issue?

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  6. I didn’t enjoy this book at all. It’s really a wtered down acceptable version of Jim Crow times, not to mention her portrayal of black maids being close to second mothers to white childen ie. loving their jobs. It smacks of the old south and Aunt Jemima. At this period, it was practically the only job black women could get and often they were sexually harrassed through most of it. Stockett does tell a good story but I prefer reading more realistic versions of this time period, not her selective memory.

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  7. I highly enjoyed this book. I also think the movie did a good job to keep true to the book, which doesn’t happen too often.

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  8. It was one of my favourite readings back in 2010. I agree with the movie being a good adaptation but a little bit too saccharined. Skeeter still is one of my favourite, strong-women characters.

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  9. This sounds like a good one to read. After reading Toni Morrison’s Beloved, I think this could balance out the poignancy that Beloved brings and instills about slavery and racism before, during, and after the American Civil War. I would love to see the movie,too. Awesome review, you’re making my TBR list grow longer. 🙂

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  10. I also saw the movie first, but I read the book in two days, it was so good!

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