Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

I became aware of The Help when it spent forever on the Bestsellers list at work. Women of a certain age would look for it for a book club. These factors don't bode well in getting me to read a book. What happened was that my friend recommended the book to me, and I decided when I started Cannonball Read that if someone suggested a book, I'd read that book. This was my first (and only) suggestion.

The Help is sort of amazing in that it is chock full of book club-worthy topics. It's almost a Lifetime Movie. There's racism, domestic violence, more racism, infertility, feminism, a little romance, and yet more racism. Oh, and cancer. You can't forget the cancer. It's also all about women. Even with all that working against it, I actually ended up enjoying The Help.

The plot centers around three women. Aibileen and Minny are maids for prominent families in Georgia. Skeeter is a young woman fresh out of college. She wants to pursue a career in writing, but is having difficulty because it's the 1950s and she's a dame. A publisher in New York advises her to write about something she cares about, something that nobody else is talking about. Skeeter eventually decides to write a book about black maids and their experiences working for white women.

It's not easy for Skeeter to get a maid to talk to her, let alone help her with the story. The first maid to help is Aibileen. She has been serving as a maid for over twenty years. Aibileen feels that it's important to tell her story. She eventually convinces Minny to talk as well.

At that time, much of the Southern United States was segregated. Skeeter's best friend Hilly is trying to advertise a Home Health Initiative among the Junior League, aimed at building separate bathrooms for maids and service employees of color. This issue is what inspires Skeeter's idea. It also gets Aibileen and Minny to tell their stories.

Unfortunately, nobody gets cured of their racism. I thought maybe if all the ladies played football together like in Remember the Titans...but I digress. The three narrators all had interesting points of view and compelling stories. It was also incredibly sweet to read Kathryn Stockett's essay about her own maid growing up. It's nice to know that this was such a personal story for her. So, in summary, pick this book up if you want to discuss a book with your grandma or maiden aunt, or maybe just wait and catch the movie when it comes out.

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