Friday, April 9, 2010

The Help - review

click on cover for excerpt
I've just finished one of the best books I've ever read, even though it's not urban fantasy. :) It's been out for a little while (2009) and I had been looking for it for a while, thinking I could buy it in paperback. Nope, it's a hardcover. I never could find it in the bookstores, but then Monday night I saw it on the desk of a co-worker. She had just finished reading it and loaned it to me. I started it Monday night, have stayed up way too late reading every night since then and just now finished it.
It's set in Jackson, Missippi during 1963/1964, during some of the worst of our nation's horrific civil rights battles. It's told from the point of view of three women, one white from the "priviledged" white segment, and two "colored" women, the women who worked as maids and took care of children for their employers. Skeeter has just graduated college and recently came back home to her family's cotton farm, after graduatin and yet failing to catch a husband. Her mother is one of the most critical women around, and yet her father quietly shows a different way of looking at things than your average white man from Jackson, Mississipi, or rather than your average bigoted white man from Jackson Missippi. Aibileen is an older maid who works as a maid/nursemaid for a woman who isn't quite rich enough, but is always looking for validation from the "pillar of the community". Minny is woman who is known for being fired from the most jobs because of her mouth, and yet so far has been able to keep finding work because of her excellent cooking skills. Both maids have some of the worst bosses you can imagine.
The plot of this book revolves around Skeeter feeling frustrated at the lives of everyone around her, and the way things are, and the anger and frustration of Minny and Aibiline coming to a head. They become involved in writing a secret book about the lives of maids. Meanwhile, in the background the civil rights movement is rolling along, and Black people are being harrassed, murdered, and in general having a pretty hard life while trying to make their own lives.
The Help is at the same time, heartbreaking, uplifting, funny, and frightful. Reading this book puts you on a rollercoaster of emotion, just as life does. Although there are over 400 pages, it was 400-plus pages that just drew me in, even at the most heartbreaking sections, they were pages I wanted to keep reading - that's how well-written The Help is. I'm impressed with the three very different points of view from the three very different main characters. All the secondary characters are also very interesting. Some of them I hated while feeling sorry for, and others I felt sorry for at the same time I wanted to knock some sense into them.
At the end of the book, Kathryn Stockett writes a little bit about her own childhood in Mississipi, growing up with a family maid.
A very well-written debut novel, one that I'm glad I set everything else aside to read. I would recommend this to everyone, no matter what the preferred reading genre is.
Reading Challenges:
POC Reading Challenge for the characters

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