Thursday, 25 August 2011

Review: The Help by Kathryn Stockett

First published in Great Britain in: 2009
By: Fig Tree
This edition published in: 2010
By: Penguin Books

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, Aibileen 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 a search of a truth. And together they have an extraordinary story to tell...

My review:

I've been wanting to read The Help for a long time and luckily, it lived up to my expectations. It is a very easy book to get engrossed by and I found myself reading it for hours at a stretch. It's obviously set in a very difficult period in American history, but it uses events in the Civil Rights movement as a background to tell an intimate and personal story of 2 black maids and a young white woman who writes a tell-all book with them.

The narrative switches between the viewpoints of Aibileen, Skeeter and Minny, staying with them for a few chapters each, then back again. I found all 3 to be fully-fleshed out and likable. Aibileen is a great character; intelligent, kind and dignified and you feel it every time she is treated as inferior due to her race, because you know how much better she is than the people who look down on her. Aibileen's friendship with Minny is another strong attribute to both women and the loyalty they display for each other - in fact, that all the black maids in the novel display for each other - is seriously moving. Minny was my favourite, although her part in the story is probably the least realistic: her relationship with her employer, Celia and especially, the pie story (when you think about the logistics of that, it does seem unbelievable that Minny would get her special ingredient and take the time to whip it up in her own kitchen, using her own bowls and spoons and stuff). But Minny's dealings with Celia and Two-Slice Hilly do bring moments of levity and humour to the 'vanished world' that is frustrating and depressing in its injustice. Skeeter, a young girl coming-of-age, is more of a stock character than the other 2, but I appreciated that she isn't some Great White Saviour, but is largely motivated by self-interest; trying to escape her own stultifying life. Don't get me wrong, she's a sympathetic character but she isn't unrealistically good and modern-thinking - she's still a product of her time in some ways.

I think the novel does do a good job of conveying some of the horrific things that were happening to black people in the South, through the community Aibileen and Minny are a part of. The stories of a young man called Robert and another maid called Yule May broke my heart. The book also successfully builds up an atmosphere of terror at what could happen to the maids if their roles in writing the tell-all are discovered. However, I found that The Help ended in a weird place, without things being fully resolved. It was almost as if the author couldn't bring herself to write about those awful things happening to Aibileen and Minny. It's a strange feeling to close the book, knowing that anything from prison to a violent death could be awaiting the characters, but we're just leaving them there, at that moment.

I hope I haven't made this book sound like a huge downer or something, because it's really not. Aibileen and Minny are largely positive characters, doing the best they can with their lots in life. The Help has happy moments, sad moments, funny incidents and tragic incidents. It has a lot to say about women and the way we treat each other, when really, we're not so different from each other. It's a great read, one that I happily recommend.

Rating: 4 stars


  1. Great review! I loved this book! Despite being a little sad at times it was a very heartwarming read!

  2. I've been wanting to read this book. There is a big wait for it at my library though, so I'll be waiting a while! Great review!

  3. I hadn't heard of this book before but it sounds like a great read. I'm always impressed by books that are told from different viewpoints where the characters are actually distinct. As an Australian I have very little knowledge about the American Civil War era but I am planning to read this now!

  4. I've been wanting to read this book too. Everyone says it's a great one to pick up. I just haven't had the time to. Interesting review. Thanks for stopping by my blog! :)

    Livin' Life Through Books

  5. Eeep! Can't wait to read this. I might have to start with the audiobook first *sigh*

  6. Awesome review! I've been wanting to read this for so long, especially since they made a movie out of it, but I've been afraid it won't live up to its popularity. Glad to hear that it does. :)


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