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Kathryn Stockett – The Help

January 18, 2012

1. The Help by Kathryn Stockett (2009)

Length: 530 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction

Started/Finished: 04 January 2012

Where did it come from? The library booksale.
Why do I have it? I’d seen the millions of people who loved it, of course, plus my mom insisted I go see the movie, which I really enjoyed.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 29 October 2011.

No one wants to know
which of their dirty secrets
the maid has found out.

Summary: All of Skeeter Phelan’s friends are busily getting married and having babies, while Skeeter’s got bigger plans: she wants to be a writer. But in 1960s Jackson, Mississippi, that’s easier said than done. Skeeter gets a job writing the cleaning advice column for the local paper, but she knows nothing about cleaning, so she turns to her friend’s housekeeper, Abilene. The more they talk, the more Skeeter becomes aware of the unfair practices and daily indignities of being a black housekeeper for a white woman in the Civil-Rights-era South. When an editor tells Skeeter to write about the things that bother her, but that no one else notices, she gets a dangerous idea: what about a book that describes the point of view of the help? She talks Abilene into it, but neither of them have any idea what they’re getting themselves into, and what the repercussions of their collaboration could wind up being.

Review: I was bound and determined not to be charmed by this book. I’d seen everybody love it, but I said to myself, “Self, this book is going to be all charming and emotionally manipulative and it’s going to try really hard to make you love it despite yourself, so don’t let it, okay?” And so that’s the mindset that I went into this book with, and guess what? I failed. This book charmed me right out of my stubbornness.

(Actually, in the spirit of honesty, I had this conversation with myself about the movie first. And then I was all “Self, the movie charmed you despite your best intentions, and left you all sniffly in the theater, and you know the book is going to be the same, so really, let’s resist having our heartstrings tugged this time, okay?” And then I failed at that too.)

So, yeah. This book was thoroughly charming, and my heartstrings did wind up getting tugged, but I came out of it feeling like it had earned its emotional moments (one of which happened while I was reading in public. Allergies, I swear!) Stockett is very good at creating a sense of place and of moment with her writing, and her prose flows easily and naturally. I was a little bit worried, originally, since Abilene’s sections are written in dialect, which can so easily go wrong, but Stockett uses it effectively, letting it add to Abilene’s voice without overwhelming it.

There were times throughout the book that made me feel like the whole thing was an exercise in racial apologetics: “See, not all white people are horrible racists, even in the South!” And, to her credit, in a note at the end Stockett addresses the issue of a white woman presuming to speak for generations of black women. Racial issues form the core of this book, and while they’re not something on which I feel particularly qualified to speak, I did appreciate Stockett bringing to light a side of our history and culture that I had never before considered. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Neither near-historical fiction nor Southern fiction are usually my thing, but I wound up really enjoying this book, so if it even vaguely appeals, it’s worth reading.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Because I am practically the last person on the planet to read this book, there are tons of other reviews at the Book Blog Search Engine.
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: Mae Mobley was born on a early Sunday morning in August, 1960.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 252: “She is almost my height in her peau de soie heels.” – A soft silk fabric of satin weave having a dull finish.

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. January 18, 2012 1:26 pm

    I really liked this book too. I’ve read about the controversy surrounding it but that doesn’t keep it from being a good story.

    • February 23, 2012 3:13 pm

      I don’t know that I’ve heard that much about any controversy…? Just what she herself brings up in her author’s note.

  2. January 18, 2012 7:59 pm

    Hahahaha, I would totally go into this book with the same stern orders to myself. And the reaction you had to it in the end is the reason I’m not reading it — I’m mad at Kathryn Stockett, and I refuse to be charmed out of being mad. :p

    • February 23, 2012 3:14 pm

      Why are you mad? Or is it just a preemptive mad for the emotion manipulating you know is coming?

  3. January 20, 2012 1:14 am

    I read this book for the first time last year because I wanted to before the movie. I really enjoyed it, but I avoided the hype for a long time.

    • February 23, 2012 3:15 pm

      I was going to continue to avoid them both, but my parents loooooved the movie and badgered me until I went to see it.

  4. January 21, 2012 12:44 am

    I have that same mindset when books have been praised to the heavens by everyone I know. I loved this book though, and am looking forward to seeing the movie. Southern fiction is not my favorite either, so this book was a very nice surprise.

    • February 23, 2012 3:16 pm

      Now that I’ve read the book, I thought they did a great job with the movie. Stuff was moved around and cut, of course, but the casting and acting were spot-on.

  5. January 21, 2012 10:19 pm

    I really enjoyed this too. Haven’t seen the movie but don’t plan to anyway.

  6. January 22, 2012 4:14 pm

    I keep waiting for the hype to pass on this one before I read it. Not because I don’t like to read books that are hyped, but it was so polarizing, I just don’t want to read it and be affected by any of that.

    • February 23, 2012 3:19 pm

      Luckily, I have a fairly short attention span for hype. Like, I remember there was some, but none of the details.


  1. Book Review: The Help By Kathryn Stockett « Literary Chronicles

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