The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, has been sitting unopened on my nightstand for more than three weeks. My book group is reading it for our end-of-April meeting, but I didn’t want to start it too soon, for fear of forgetting the details. Saturday night, I found myself with a few spare hours on my hands, and my willpower evaporated. I sat down to read at six-thirty and didn’t budge for 200 pages. For the rest of the weekend I was too busy to get back to it, but found myself reflecting on it often.
You might find it odd that someone is reviewing a book that she has not yet finished, but I have some very good reasons for doing so. One is, it won’t spoil the ending for anyone! The other is that I want to get back to reading it, but have to write today’s post, and this seems like the ideal compromise.
The Help takes place in 1962 Mississippi, during the Civil Rights movement. Factual events are artfully mixed with the fictitious lives of two maids and a privileged college graduate who has dreams of becoming an editor. The book is told in the voices of these women, who take turns telling their concurrent stories.
Skeeter (a.k.a. Eugenia), the graduate, stumbles onto the idea to write about a maid’s perspective of working for families in Jackson. Aibileen and Minnie agree to share their experiences, even though the consequences for all of them could be dire. Along the way, various relationships intermingle with their growing determination to get the book published. An intriguing subplot, which I am pretty sure will supply a twist by the end, is Skeeter’s search for Constantine, the maid who raised her. (I have some theories about this, but won’t share them so as not to spoil anyone else’s predictions. I’m also pretty certain what was wrong with Minnie’s pie!)
My main criticism thus far is that the characters, while likable and engaging, are somewhat stereotypical: the good hearted and selfless Aibileen, the good hearted and outspoken Minnie, the well intentioned but naïve Skeeter. A few believability issues have cropped up for me, as well. How could the fair minded and unprejudiced Skeeter have known friends Hilly and Elizabeth for so long without noticing what malicious bigots they were? Why on earth would someone like Skeeter be friends with those girls in the first place, and frankly, why would they be friends with her? I also had some initial issues with the use of first person, present tense. While the two maids’ stories flowed smoothly, the use of present tense blending with their dialect, its use in Skeeter’s story was a little jarring until I became accustomed to it.
These things are by no means deal breakers. The Help is the best book I’ve read in a long time. Ms. Stockett, a first time novelist, has woven an absorbing and well-written tale of Southern women, different in color, but the same in every other way. Read it! You won’t be sorry (at least until after page 200!).
Layinda’s Blog Midpoint Rating: ¶¶¶¶¶
Note: With 36 people signed up ahead of me for the library copy, I decided to buy it so that I could read at my leisure. I was happy to discover that the hardback edition is on sale at Amazon.com for $9.50 (it was originally $24.99). The paperback edition is not yet available, but will be soon, if the clearance price is any indication. Here is the link to it on Amazon: Amazon.com Widgets
P.S. Although many people viewed “Line in the Sand,” no one submitted an entry, so there are no winners!
[Or losers – I get to keep my $10! ;)]