Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Help - Kathryn Stockett

Whenever I hear only wonderfully amazing things about a book, I'm a little hesitant to pick it up. I worry that I won't love it as much as my friends, that I won't understand it, or perhaps even that I will love it - and realize I'm not so different from the masses. Recently, I feel like The Help has been everywhere - so for my own cultural literacy, I figured I better read it. The Help is told from the perspective of three women living and working in Mississippi in the 1960s. Aibileen, an African-American maid who has lost her only son, is raising her 17th white child - for a mother who could not care less about her own daughter. Minny, also an African-American maid, refuses to let social norms dictate her interactions - getting her in trouble in the most frustrating of circumstances. And finally, Skeeter, a white college graduate from a fine family whose mother wants nothing more than to see her in a wedding dress. With Skeeter's naive encouragement, the three women embark on a project that puts all their livelihoods - and their lives - at risk, and exposes the complicated truth behind the relationships between black maids and their white bosses. While I found the story immediately engaging, this was a difficult one to stomach at times. The deep-seated racism portrayed in Southern society, and the viewpoints that stem from willful ignorance, made my blood boil. Stockett, a white author, took a huge risk in writing her two main black characters in the first person. In the Afterwards, she acknowledges the fear that accompanied this choice, and while I certainly thought she did it quite well - obviously, I would like to know what more African-American women from the South who had been through experiences similar to Aibileen and Minny, thought of the characters. Of course, writers are not limited to writing "what they know" - I always think of Wally Lamb's fabulous female character in She's Come Undone. It just raises interesting questions for me. This is definitely a book for sparking discussion - a page turner and a tear-jerker. I have to agree with the masses on this one. A definite book to recommend.

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