When I saw the giant, wall-sized poster for the movie called The Help in my local theatre, I had no idea it was based on a book. I just knew that Emma Stone was on the poster and she was BLONDE, so I thought, "Finally! Something that might make people stop telling me I look like Emma Stone!" I soon heard that it was based on a popular book, but I never thought much more about it.
Fast forward a few weeks, and several friends of mine were talking about the book on various social networking sites, almost all of them using the exact phrase, "can't put it down." Well, that always makes me curious. Multiple people whose opinions I trust raving about the same book. OK. I had just finished A Game of Thrones and had planned on jumping right into the next book in the series, but I was so HEARTBROKEN after the end of that book that I needed a break. I took my happy tail to Amazon, downloaded The Help for my Kindle, and started reading 5 minutes later. Thirty-six hours after that, I had finished the book. Loved it.
The Help is University of Alabama graduate (booooo, War Eagle!) Kathryn Stockett's novel about the relationship between white families and their "help" in the 1960s. The story's narration is done by three people (except one chapter, which is told from an omniscient point of view). The first two narrators, Aibileen and Minny, are black maids for white families in Jackson, Mississippi. The third narrator is Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan, who the young, white daughter of an affluent Jackson family who has recently graduated from college and wants to pursue a journalism career. All of Skeeter's friends quit college after they found husbands, and they are now living happily ever after, hiring maids to do their chores and raise their children. Although Skeeter has chosen a different path in life, she still attends weekly luncheons and club meetings with her friends. This is where Skeeter starts to notice just how her friends are treating their "help." When her insufferably vapid friend Hilly begins a community-wide movement to install separate bathrooms for maids to avoid "disease," Skeeter knows she has to do something to open people's eyes to the discrimination and injustices in the South.
I am, as you know, a sucker for a good Southern story, and even more of a sucker for a good historically-based novel. The tumultuous 1960s is a great setting for just about any story, and Stockett uses iconic historical events throughout her story to move the plot along. There are things in this book that will make you sick and ashamed and angry and just about every other emotion under the sun.
As a history teacher, I often feel like there are monumental events in our history that we hear about so much that we take them for granted. "Yeah, yeah, Rosa Parks wouldn't give up her seat on the bus. We know, we've learned about it every year since 4th grade." It almost loses its importance because it's just rote fact at this point. (Not saying I feel that way, but I know plenty of my students do.) There were so many unbelievably brave things that people did to change the way things were, and many of us don't even stop to think about how much of a risk they took just to stand up for what they knew was right. This book pretty much dares you to forget about how much of a sacrifice so many people made in the 60s for racial equality. You see what happens to people who stand up for what's right in this book, and it's heartbreaking. You see how powerful the desire is to fit in and not "associate" with blacks other than to hire the "poor things" as your help, lest you be shunned by your socialite friends.
This book will definitely give you plenty to think about, and I fully agree with the "couldn't put it down" sentiment. Worth your time, for sure.
Read from August 5, 2011 to August 7, 2011