Review: The Help - Kathryn Stockett

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“You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”

My Rating: ★★ 1/2

Genre(s): Fiction, Historical Fiction, Adult

Reading Challenge: 8 out of 50

Goodreads Synopsis —

Three ordinary women are about to take one extraordinary step.

Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.

Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.

Minny, Aibileen's best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody's business, but she can't mind her tongue, so she's lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.

Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.

In pitch-perfect voices, Kathryn Stockett creates three extraordinary women whose determination to start a movement of their own forever changes a town, and the way women, mothers, daughters, caregivers, friends, view one another. A deeply moving novel filled with poignancy, humor, and hope, The Help is a timeless and universal story about the lines we abide by, and the ones we don't.

My Thoughts —

I’m going to come out and say it right off the bat - I didn’t like this book. I was pretty shocked. I’d seen the movie a long time ago, back when it came out, and then a couple years later, and I remember enjoying it. But the book put a sour taste in my mouth, to say the least.

Unlike the majority of people who’ve read it, I didn’t read the book when it first came out. Reading it nearly a decade after the fact definitely has a huge impact on how you see it because the hype has died down and all. I got to see things with a clearer, less biased perspective. In the time since this book was published, a woman named Ablene Cooper came forward and actually sued Kathryn Stockett for damages, claiming that Stockett used her resemblance for the character Aibileen. Hearing about the lawsuit made me really think about the voices of black women and men, and how they’re drowned out by the voices of white people. In the novel, the black maids risk literally everything - their jobs, families, and even their lives - to share their stories, which are ultimately filtered through Skeeter, a white woman. And it seems like the only people who recognize the true sacrifice and heroism of Minny and Aibileen’s actions are other black people. Skeeter doesn’t get it, and maybe she can’t fully get it coming from a position of privilege.

Kind of on the same point, I felt like Skeeter’s story was given a lot more attention than the others’ in terms of the layout of the book. The story has a multi-narrative structure, alternating between Skeeter, Minny, and Aibileen. But it felt to me like the entire novel was focused on Skeeter, and that Aibileen and Minny’s stories were meant for background information. It’s almost like The Help was a coming-of-age novel focused on Skeeter, and that her writing the book was just a plot device. Idk it just seemed pretty off to me.

Something I did like about the book (since all I’ve done is talk negatively) was the relationship between Aibileen and Minny. I love seeing the unity between in books and in contrast to the toxic relationship between Hilly, Elizabeth, and Skeeter, the one between Aibileen and Minny was refreshing. I also thought the relationship between the Footes and Minny was pretty great.

I don’t know what else to say about this book, honestly. I struggled to finish it. I was hoping for a serious discussion on the Civil Rights Movement but was left quite disappointed. I think the lawsuit plus the privileged voice of the story put a bad taste in my mouth. If this book had been written by a POC, it would’ve been a lot better.

Have you read The Help? Do you agree?

Felicia x