“You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”
Hey guys! So today I’m reviewing a bit of a controversial read, in comparison to my other choices. The Help has garnered quite a bit of negative reviews since it’s publication and I can’t help but agree with them, at least in part.
The Help tells the story of racism in Southern USA during the Civil Rights Movement, told from the perspectives of three women. Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan is a white socially elite woman from a plantation-owning family who decides, with the help of two black women named Minny and Aibileen, to write a book that shares the stories of black maids in Jackson, Mississippi.
Okay, I’m just going to come out and say it. 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 remember enjoying it. But the book put a sour taste in my mouth to say the least.
Unlike the majority of people, 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 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 as the basis for the character Aibileen, as Cooper used to work as Stockett’s brother’s housekeeper. I’m obviously not going to go into a full-fledged debate on whether or not the character was based on Cooper buuuut it’s sketch. Hearing about the lawsuit got me thinking about the voices of black women and men, and how they are drowned out by the voices of white people. In the novel, the black maids risk literally everything - their jobs, their 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 are recognizing the true sacrifice and heroism of Minny and Aibileen’s actions are other black people. Skeeter seems to not fully get it.
Kind of on the same point, I felt like Skeeter’s story was given a lot more attention than the other’s in terms of the layout of the book. The story has a multi-narrative perspective, 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 info. It’s almost like The Help was a coming-of-age novel about Skeeter growing into an independent woman 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 women 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 that the relationship between the Footes and Minny was better than the relationship between Minny and the black maids.
I don’t know what else to say about this book, really. I struggled to finish it honestly. I was hoping for a serious discussion on the Civil Rights Movement but was left quite disappointed. I think that the lawsuit, plus the fact that story was written by a white female author, put a bad taste in my mouth. If this book had been written by a POC, with a different perspective of the story, it would have been much better.
Have you read The Help? Do you agree with me?
Goodreads Challenge: 8 out of 50