By August 19, 2009 6 Comments Read More →

The Help

I have to admit that I was skeptical. Could a white woman in a debut novel write from the perspective of black maids in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960s?

Kathryn Stockett’s The Help begins with the voice of Aibileen in 1962. Aibileen has been a domestic worker most of her life. When we meet her she is working for the Leefolts, cooking and cleaning and minding a toddler who is clearly not loved by her mother. Aibileen is the one to tell this dear child that she is smart and important, when at every turn her mother undermines her self worth. Thus we enter the hidden world of what it was like to be a domestic servant in America’s not so distant past.

Aibileen shares her story, the painful loss of her adult son, her sorrows and joys, with a clear voice that sweeps you along.

Miss Eugenia “Skeeter “Phelan is a young white woman with a college degree who is itching to begin her career as a journalist. She is friends with Miss Leefolt, and when she is given a newspaper column on house cleaning, she goes to Aibileen for advice.

What begins as a weekly conversation on cleaning evolves as Skeeter begins to question the world she grew up in. When she returned from college, she found that the maid who had raised her has disappeared. And she finds some of her closest friends so concerned about blacks using the same restrooms as whites that they don’t stop to even think about their common humanity. Skeeter’s awakening consciousness as well as a prompt from a New York editor to “write about what disturbs you” spurs her to approach Aibileen and other black maids to share their stories of what it is like working for white families.

Stockett captures the voices and lives of each of her characters so well, and creates an atmosphere and a pace that had me turning pages to find out what happened next. She also creates a wonderful villain that propels the story and places the issues of racism in sharp focus. The Help would be a wonderful book for discussion on race, politics, American history, civil rights and women’s lives. There’s already a Reading Guide to get you started.

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About the Author:

Misha Stone is a readers' advisory librarian with The Seattle Public Library. Follow her on Twitter at @ahsimlibrarian.

6 Comments on "The Help"

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  1. janier@kslib.info' janie says:

    This is a fabulous book. I listened to it on CD and found the characters, the dialog and the story absolutely mesmerizing. I was a child of the 60’s, not from the south, but I remember so much of the time. Don’t miss this one.

  2. anaug67171@aol.com' Ana Naughton says:

    I found The Help hard to read and slow though rewarding. It is written a lot in Southern patois and I had trouble as afast reader to
    get through it. I liked the story and have taken the book out again to finish it.

  3. madaoreilly@crestedbutte.net' Marj says:

    Are there questions available for discussion

  4. Bteam3@aol.com' Lori says:

    I am loving reading the book. I just finished chapter 25 and wanted to know if there was a reason chapter 25 was lined in the margins

  5. I share some of the same history as “Skeeter”: born in the South, same age, family employed a black maid during early years, college grad 1962, Chi Omega sorority, silver pattern-Grand Baroque. Although parts of the book were achingly familiar, I kept jumping ahead, wishing the story wasn’t so long, so wordy, and so “trite.” What was Ms. Sockett’s editor thinking? Naming the main character, “Skeeter” seemed to trivialize her – None of my girlfriends, nor any of my sorority sisters, had nicknames, not even double names ending with “Jo”, “Sue”, “Rae”, or “Fay.” An image of Sally Fields, playing someone named Bunny, continued to pop into my mind. I found it laughable that “Skeeter” thought that parking her car two doors down from Abileen’s house for a secret meeting wouldn’t attract attention. This was too Nancy Drew for me. Ms. Stockett was unable to convince me of Skeeter’s real intentions – her need to escape the tyranny of her white, racist mother, and her desire to become a “real” writer. What Stockett did well was to create a character with a hauntingly clear voice, Abileen. And, maybe even the character, Minny. As an editor, I would have suggested that they tell the entire story. Skeeter,the “helper”, would have a part about as important-sounding as her name.

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