Wednesday, 24 April 2013

The Help by Kathryn Stockett


Publisher: Penguin
Format: Paperback
Published: 13th May 2010

Number of Pages: 464
Book: Borrowed
Genre: Realistic-Fiction, Historical, Chick-Lit, Drama, Contemporary, Real-To-Life Fiction, Humour, Adult
Recommended Age: 13+
Contains: Swearing, Violence, Sexual Assault References and Domestic Abuse References
No Alcohol, Drug References
Author's Site: Kathryn Stockett

Enter a vanished world: Jackson, Mississippi, 1962.  Where black maids raise white children, but aren’t trusted not to steal the silver…
There’s Aibileen, raising her seventeenth white child and nursing the hurt caused by her own son’s tragic death; Minny, whose cooking is nearly as sassy as her tongue; and white Miss Skeeter, home from college, who wants to know why her beloved maid has disappeared.
Skeeter, Sibileen and Minny.  No one would believe they’d be friends: fewer still would tolerate it.  But as each woman finds the courage to cross boundaries, they come to depend and rely upon one another.  Each is in search of a truth.  And together they have an extraordinary story to tell…

                                                                   Review:
In Mississippi, 1963, those with black skin are treated like second class citizens, left to raise white people's children, but not trusted with valuables. 
Both Aibileen and Minny are black maids.  Aibileen is struggling to deal with her son's death and Minny is trying to cope with her new (secret) work, her sassy mouth and the "Terrible Awful Thing" she has done...
Miss Skeeter, a white, rich college graduate, only wants to be a writer and hates how society treats women – both black and white – and is desperate for news of her childhood maid Constantine, the woman who raised and loved her. 
The three women are worlds apart, but Skeeter's search for something worth writing about brings them together, binding them as she writes stories from "the help's" perspective – the truthful, honest perspective – and break down the walls society had put up to separate them... 
My mum and aunt read this ages ago and have been going on at me to read it. A break in my schedule gave me the chance to finally read it.  Oh, how I wish I'd read it sooner.  It’s such a powerful book, so emotional and moving and funny.  It's the kind of book that comes along once in a generation, the kind of book everyone everywhere should read.  It's amazing.  So amazing that ‘amazing’ doesn’t even begin to do it justice.
The three main women were… amazing.  Beyond amazing…  Aibileen: she was so loving of her "special babies" and so protective of Baby Girl.  She was a little cynical, but really did love the kids she took care of, and hated how they ended up like their parents and that there was nothing she could do to stop it.  And I just loved her so much. 
And Minny was brilliant and so funny.  I love her spirit, her sass.  She was really feisty and fierce and loved to cook.  And, man, did she kill me sometimes.  She was really protective of her employers – only she got to badmouth them!  Yeah, Minny was just a total legend.
Miss Skeeter was just brilliant – again, I loved her spirit and sass.  She was so clever and cared about what the maids had to say when no one else did.  I loved her for that. 
Miss Hilly, however, was a total female-dog.  She was also pretty much the stereotypical '60s white woman from Mississippi.  She was a good, loving mother, helped charities, had lots of friends.  And she treated the help like scum, wanted them to be totally separate from white people, thought they carried diseases and stuff.  She was also manipulative and vindictive.  Ergo: Hilly is a total female-dog. 
Some characters you hate from the get go: namely Miss Hilly.  Others you love so, so much at the beginning and love more each time.  I loved Celia Foote (she was so sweet and lonely and such a good person) and Mister Johnny (he was so sweet and just the best, kindest person).  Miss Skeeter's daddy was also the kindest man – and very Atkinson-like.  I guess Miss Hilly wasn't all bad, but I hated the way she treated the maids – hated it.  But that's what I love about Stockett's characters - they were all so complex and three dimensional - all different shades of grey.  
The complexity of the relationships between the employees and the maids really struck me, especially the one between Aibileen and Mae Mobley (Baby Girl) and Miss Elizabeth.  Aibileen loved Mae Mobley so much, and yet had to stand by and say nothing as Elizabeth hit the child or ignored her and pushed her away.  My heart actually broke every time the three-year-old "Mae Mo bad?" and Aibileen told her "You kind, you smart, you important.".  And when Baby Girl said "Aibee, you're my real mama," oh!  All enough to break a girl's heart, isn't it?  So is the love Skeeter has for her maid, Constantine, the woman who raised her and was always there for her – until she suddenly vanished.  You could tell how much Skeeter loved Constantine and desperate she was to find her.  And as time went on, she was so worried Constantine didn’t know how much she meant to Skeeter or if she didn't know how much Skeeter was grateful for everything she'd done…  Heart-breaking…
I adored Stockett's writing, how we got to read from Aibileen, Minny and Skeeter's POV – and how each sounded different and unique.  And all so alive – I could hear everyone's voices in my head, practically hear them all breathing.  And it was all just so powerful.  It made me laugh my head off and choked me up numerous times.  I was shocked and horrified by all the laws that separated white and "coloured" people – it made me sick.  
Even though The Help was funny and really made me laugh, the humour didn't take away from the whole grave situation.  This was southern America in the '60s and African-American people were treated so, so badly.  Like the blurb said, white people give their babies to black maids, but didn't trust them with their valuable belongings.  It honestly just made me sick. 
This book was funny and heart-breaking, and every shade of emotion between the two.  It was a roller coaster of a ride, with me practically holding my breath all through the story, rushing to the finale so I could know everything, feeling totally connected to each character, breathless as I watched each event unfold.  The Help was just such an amazing book.  Its deep without drowning you, funny without making light of the situation, horrible but not without beauty.  I honestly cannot find the words to do this book justice.  I don't think such words truly exist.  All I can say is that everyone just HAS to read this book.  I don't care if you’re rich or poor, male or female, young or old, or what colour your skin is.  We're all the same inside and that's what this book is all about: touching you so deep and strong on your heart that the marks it's left there never leave.  And that is what makes this story beyond words.  It's what makes it beautiful. 

Star Rating:
5 Out of 5




Read this book if you liked:
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl


Challenges It's Taking Part In:
Happy Reading
Megan

5 comments:

Josh Caporale said...

Saw the film, should read the book. Very realistic. I like the term "female dog" in your review. Hahaha...

My anxious life said...

Whoa! That's a big ad on the side of your page! This book is amazing. I really enjoyed it and it's not really my type of book. I really think everyone should read it. Sad thing is there is still this behavior in people today. We still have a long way to go!!

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Shoshanah said...

It's been a while since I read this, but do remember really enjoying it. I did like the movie too, and do think they did it justice even though they changed a few things. Definitely a book I'd love to go back and rerread someday.

Hyacinth Marius said...

Amazing book with a great insight to the south during a hard time in history. The characters have great depth and you can't help but fall in love, sympathize and hate certain people throughout the story line.
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