Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

"The Help" by Kathryn Stockett

I can't quite recall how this book first seeped into my consciousness, but I do know that it's probably been more than a year since my friend Linda recommended it to me. And since then I have heard about it from just about every source you can imagine (and some you can't).

It's no surprise that everyone was right about this book. It's an excellent story, and it dragged me in from the very beginning. There's an uneasy tension throughout the entire thing; in case you've been living under a rock and haven't heard, it's about black maids working for white families in Jackson, Mississippi during the 1960s. With such subject matter, it's no surprise that it's fraught with hostility. But what is surprising is that this hostility is accompanied by love and respect. There is only one character in the book who doesn't have a good side to go along with the bad.

One thing that caught my attention in this book is that not one of the characters is happy (although this does not make for anywhere near as depressing a book as you might think). Everyone is dealing with their lot in life and no one is whining or in a deep funk over it, but no one is content. Which is only right. They shouldn't be. But the most impressive characters are working to change what they don't like, and there is a beautiful thread of hope throughout the book.

While reading this book I was reminded of my great aunt and uncle who hosted a huge Christmas Eve party at their house in Virginia every December. Each year they hired the same black family to do all of the cooking and serving for the evening. That always kind of made me squirm. No one really talked about it--not that I recall, anyway--but I was uncomfortable with that strange sense of separation that belonged in another century. Now, after reading this book, I can't help but wonder what stories that black family would have told Skeeter.

Soon after Linda suggested I read this book, I saw what had to have been a group of ladies in a book club discussing it at a local restaurant. I still miss my book club that disintegrated four years ago, and I almost walked right up to their table and asked if I could join them, but then I noticed these were all old ladies. Not that there's anything wrong with old ladies, and I'm sure they would have been very polite and welcoming, but this wasn't like my old book club that had such an interesting variety of ages, all the way from me to a couple of septuagenarians (until we got our token college student, and stretched our age range even further). These women were obviously friends first and a book club second. Maybe if I keep my fingers crossed for long enough my friends will be interested in reading something other than James Patterson books by the time our hair is blue, and we'll be having our own book club at the local restaurant.

18 comments:

Kate said...

Great review! One of my favorite books!

I agree with you - no one is really content... however there's a feeling of hope. These women all have a stick-to-it-ness I wish I possessed more of!

I wish we lived closer because I've been craving a book club too!

Janna said...

Terrific review. This is an awesome book, very well done. It's a difficult subject, but Stockett pulled it off rather seamlessly.

I reviewed this book on my blog back in March:
http://www.primoreads.com/2010/03/help.html

Jessica said...

Thats a shame about your book club, I would love to go to a RL bookclub but there doesnt seem to be any in my area.

Er but yes back to the book, I have yet to read my copy but Im fully expecting to really enjoy it when I do!

Emidy said...

I've seen this book so many times but I've never read it! After reading your review, though, I really want to.

Greg Zimmerman said...

Very good review - thanks! I think I'm actually going to have to read this book...at some point. ;)

Ordinary Reader said...

I agree this is a great story. It has stayed with me since I read it and I think it always will. The characters were so very real to me. I think it's a wonderful book. Great review!

Kathy said...

Kate--I think we would have a blast in a book club together! It is too bad we are geographically challenged. Just imagine all the good books and good wine there would be . . .

Janna--I totally agree that this is a difficult--and sensitive--subject, but that Stockett did very well with it. I am looking forward to checking out your blog post about it--I have tried to avoid most posts about this book since I knew I would eventually read it, but now I can't remember who has posted about it, and I'm too lazy to go hunting on everyone's blog, so I'm glad you left your link!

Jess--I seem to remember that Chris tried out a book club for a bit--was that just an online thing? I don't know if you follow Whitney at She Is Too Fond of Books, but she has just started a book club in her town--maybe you and Chris can do the same thing--you already have 2 members! And maybe Chris won't mind it so much if you let him pick the books. ;)

Emidy--I don't think you will regret it if you give it a try. And I will be looking forward to reading what you think about it, now that I'm not avoiding posts about it anymore!

Greg--Will that point be when you've been beaten over the head by this book so often that you finally just give up and read it? This book falls in that category with Larsson's Millennium Trilogy and Cronin's The Passage--it seems that everyone has read them and everyone has raved about them, but evidently there's a reason for that.

Dianne--I think that's definitely a mark of a good book, when it stays with you that way. I love it when a book makes you think, and you find yourself mulling it over for a long time afterwards.

anothercookiecrumbles said...

I've seen this book around, and been slightly hesitant about picking it up, simply because I'm scared it'll be emotionally manipulative. I've almost picked it up about four times, and then put it back down for that very reason.

The story does sound fantastic though, so, I don't know. Should I read it? Should I not?

Hard luck on the book club thing. On the other hand, I've never belonged to a book club, and most of my friends don't like reading! Yay for GoodReads and blogging. :)

Kathy said...

Oh, emotionally manipulative books really irk me. I don't think this was one of them. I didn't cry at all while reading it, if that helps. On the other hand, I am cold and heartless . . .

Lyd-ee-ah said...

I loved this book when back when I read it and have suggested it to others looking for a good book. If you ever get a book club together I hope that I get an invite :)
Oh and I had to laugh at the cold and heartless comment because that is how I describe myself and would not describe you that way at all.

Kathy said...

L--now, there is an idea! We can start a book club! Only problem is you're the only local person I know who likes to read books worth reading. (There's no one left from my original book club--most of them moved away.) Do you know of anyone else? I was wishing I could form one here in NB but it doesn't look like that's ever going to happen.

Maybe I am only cold and heartless over books and movies . . . and my husband, when he is complaining about yet another ailment.

Lyd-ee-ah said...

Well...there is Renae, do you remember her? She worked in the lab for a short time, she loves to read. Although, I am not sure exactly what all kinds of books she reads.

Kathy said...

Yes! I remember Renae! Are you still in touch with her? It's OK if she doesn't read exactly what I would choose--I was just thinking to avoid readers like Bertha (All Romance All The Time) and Barbara (Mostly Just Crap).

thefriande said...

Strangely, this book hasn't really hit it big over in Australia - I've only ever heard about it on blogs. So I haven't picked it up.

I like how you said the book has hope, and the characters all have a good side as well as a bad. Reading the book summary, I'd always assumed it was a bit of a depressing (and two-dimensional) read. I'll definitely have to read this one soon, or at least before the movie is released.

Lyd-ee-ah said...

Yes, I am still in touch with Renae. Not only does she live down the road from me, she is a very good friend and the mother of my cousins. :) I am pretty sure she would be interested in book club. I know what you mean about Bertha, love her to death but can't stand those books!!

Kathy said...

thefriande--I didn't even know they were working on a movie for this one already! But I suppose I am not surprised.

Micaella Lopez said...

This is one of the best books I have read in years. Growing up in southern Mississippi, it really hit home. A MUST READ!
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Kathy said...

Glad you enjoyed it too!