Friday, April 13, 2012

Book Review: The Help

I'll be honest: I wasn't enthralled to read this book. Of course, I'd heard about it from several sources and knew many had a high opinion of the novel. I just wasn't interested.

But then it began making the rounds through my family and it was passed onto me {y'all know I don't turn down free books}! The result?

I'm of a mixed opinion. On one hand, the story was gripping. We follow Skeeter a white twenty-something society girl and Aibilene and Minny, two African American maids/nannies in Jackson, Mississippi during the Civil Rights Era. Skeeter, the daughter of a farmer and also a member of high society has dreams of working in publishing and decides to write about the lives of the maids in Jackson. What follows is a tale of heartbreak and courage as Skeeter writes her book. The consequences for everyone involved, but especially the African Americans employed by white families are steep and Stockett writes in a way that readers are worried right along with the characters.

I read the book in two days. I couldn't put it down. It shows at least some of what I see as a white woman living in the south and hearing people speak. I'm no stranger to racist {ex} friends. Having gone to school where I did, I've seen the way people talk about race and assume everything is "different now" and how African Americans are and were portrayed {my school made CNN twice while I was there: 1st for it's Affirmative Action Bakesale where they charged you differently for each cupcake based on the "cost to society" of each race. 2nd was for hurling eggs at a charicature of then Senator Obama during his presidential campaign}. Let me be clear: I have known people like Hilly {a highly racist antagonist, and former friend to Skeeter}. They still exist. I think this novel is useful for portraying these things to people who are unaware that this is what it's like, that this is what desegregation was like. It wasn't a glorious liberation. People were beaten and denied work and killed because of the color of their skin. They still are. And even if we're not talking about these dramatic issues, there is still a whole host of things there are inequality issues with racially speaking.

On the other hand, the story reeked a bit of privilege and presumption. As many reviews have stated {go check out Amazon} Stockett's use of dialects was offensive. She gives Aibilene, one of the main characters a heavy, heavy accent, and writes her in that "classic" southern "Mammy" archetype. Yet, Skeeter, the white "savior" of all "the help," who "empowers" these poor, down-trodden women speaks in perfect unaccented English. I don't know how many of y'all have ever met someone from the south, but no one, no matter the color of their skin speaks without a drawl. There may been some dialect differences {Texan, deep south, rural south, genteel south, etc.}, but that drawl you hear in the movies? We all have it in some way. As a city/suburban girl, *I* have one {especially if I'm tiiiiired}. So, it drives me crazy that Stockett wrote the novel this way. She did it, I'm sure, to show the divide between whites and blacks in the 1960's and I applaud that effort. But, there are better ways to do it {and she DID IT with her description of treatment, economic status, judicial inequality, etc.}, especially when she makes a point of telling us how educated and intelligent "the help" is. You don't say someone is intelligent and then purposely make them sound stupid by pretending only the non-whites have accents.

Do I believe this novel deserves its acclaim? Yes. Was it a good story? Undeniably. Do you need to follow with your own research and be aware of it's limitations? Without question.


  1. I see that you are reading The House At Riverton. I have it in my stack to read in the next two weeks. I love Kate Morton.
    I am you newest follower. ;0

  2. Interesting perspective. I hadnt thought about some of the things you brought up. I loved this book, in part because my family had a black nanny. She was part of our family though and I loved her. Thinking about her being treated badly when she was younger tore me up. While I grew up in the south, I didnt see a whole lot of racism personally but I know it was there. Great review!

  3. I loved this book. Like you, I was unable to put it down! Have you seen the movie? it follows the book perfectly, which I appreciate with books/movies.

  4. Solid review! I loved The Help but agree with you that Ms. Sockett strayed to the other side of the "presumption" line. It wasn't enough to turn me off but, like you, I noticed a bit of a disconnect. And it also brought up a lot of anger in me with the blatant unfairness and racism but that just gave the book more cudos, in my opinion. I like when I still keep parts of books with me. :)

  5. i read the book before it was turned into a movie,and yes the book was decent and kept me reading but i liked the movie version better for some reason.

    kate morton is great,forgotten garden is one of my favorite books!

    happy friday!

  6. oh girl! we *all* know a hilly or two.
    growing up in small-town midwest [where the only asian kids were adopted!], there is plenty of racism.
    honestly, my family has lived in a super small [all white!] town my entire life & as much as they say they are accepting [and at times, they are], there is TONS of unintentional racism!

    i got this book for 25cents at a garage sale ; also thought it was good.

  7. I read The Help last autumn and couldn't put it down! I'm originally from the South, and while I certainly witnessed a sad amount of racism, none of it was as blatant as in this book.

    I do agree that Skeeter should have had an accent, if only for effect, but I disagree that all southerners have one. My family isn't new to the South; we've lived in the same town for about 100 years. But no one knows I'm southern until I say y'all, Daddy has no accent except for saying y'all, and his mother only had the faintest of accents.

  8. Very well written review. I did like the book and found it to be a page turner. However, I did get the feeling when I was reading that it was a very glossed over view of very serious issues. The point you bring up about the language is a point well taken as well :)

    Have a great weekend, girl!

  9. I really enjoyed the Help. I thought Minnie was hilarious!