Monday, May 30, 2011

Book Review: The Help

What a fabulous book! I have been interested in finding a book club, but wanted to be sure to join one that will read books I would actually be interested in. The timing couldn't have been more perfect when my blogging friend, Catherine, who lives on the north side of Indianapolis, made a general invitation to a new fiction book club. Their first book on the agenda was Kathryn Stockett's The Help.

Set in Jackson, Mississippi (a town where my sister once lived) in the early 1960s, this book presents a delightful historical view of the delineations between blacks and whites in the time of the civil rights movement. Skeeter has just returned from college to discover that her mother has dismissed her beloved maid Constantine. Constantine, like many black maids in that time, had basically raised Skeeter. Sadly, Skeeter cannot find anyone willing to tell her what happened. In addition, her mother is eager to get her married off, when all Skeeter wants to do is find some kind of work that will launch her in the direction of a writing career.

With a bit of encouragement from an editor in New York, Skeeter is encouraged to write about something she feels strongly about. She takes a job at the local paper writing a column about housekeeping (something she knows nothing of). In an effort to present reasonable answers to the questions presented, Skeeter enlists the help of a friend's maid, Aibileen. But the housekeeping column isn't her passion. She decides that her keenest interest lies in the life of the black maids who care for white families in her town.

Kathryn Stockett presents the good and the bad in this tale. There was a special bond of love between a black maid and the white children in her care. But there was also the condescension of white society women who were in their twenties, treating their elder help as shifty, unreliable grunts. How ironic that these women who trusted their help to raise and care for their children (while they often ignored them) often distrusted their help to clean the silver without stealing it.

The story Stockett weaves is full of genuine relationships, mounting tension, and charming resolution. The end feels like a victory of sorts. Certainly the three main characters will never be the same and the reader cannot help but grow as well.

I am eager to join in the discussion this coming Wednesday. It won't surprise me if the other women in attendance will agree that this was a book that was hard to put down, complete with a good story, engaging and believable characters, and intellectual value.

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