Review: The Help

The Help
By Kathryn Stockett
Penguin Group (USA)
February 2009
464pp

Here’s the blurb from the publisher:

Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.

Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.

Minny, Aibileen’s best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody’s business, but she can’t mind her tongue, so she’s lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town  to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.

The Short of It:

The Help is the kind of book that you make time for, no matter how busy your schedule.

The Rest of It:

I’ve seen The Help everywhere and although it’s gotten wonderful reviews, I held off on reading it. I don’t like to read books that are overly hyped. I’m usually disappointed by them. However, the hype hasn’t died down yet even after all these months,  so I figured I’d give it a shot. I’m glad I did. Let me just say, that if you’ve been on the fence about reading it, get yourself a copy, find a cozy place to sit and dig in. It’s good.

As many of you know, the book is a work of fiction but it almost seems auto-biographical in nature. Skeeter is a young woman living in Mississippi. Most women her age focus on marriage and standing, but Skeeter is different. She wants to be a writer and after receiving some encouragement from a publishing house, she decides to write a book. A book about the help, literally. She decides to write a book about the black women of Jackson. The women that make a living taking care of other people’s children, cleaning other people’s houses, and putting up with all sorts of drama.

There’s so much to love about this book. Aibileen’s love for Mae Mobley, her young charge, is written so tenderly that your heart just aches when Stockett mentions them. Raising and loving another woman’s child, knowing full well that she could grow-up to treat blacks the very same way her mother does. Well, that just takes the air right out of my lungs.

Then there’s Minny, Aibileen’s best friend. Head-strong and difficult but so full of life. When Minny walks into a room, you pay attention. She’s quick to judge and has a sharp tongue, but there’s a gentle, vulnerable side to her too. I loved the interaction between her and her boss, Miss Celia.

Oh, and when Miss Skeeter has her”aha” moment, you just want to give her a big hug. Putting everything on the line for what she believes in. She’s not perfect. She has flaws but so does everyone. That’s the point. We are not meant to be perfect.

My only complaint with this book is that towards the end, the pace seemed to drop quite a bit. I suppose it was just me wanting to get to the end to find out how it all turned out, but it did seem to slow down quite a bit at one point. This is a tiny quibble given that the rest of the book is so wonderful. I really enjoyed it and feel like kicking myself for waiting so long to read it. It will definitely make my fave list this year and I can certainly see why book groups across the nation have embraced it.

For those that have read it, what did you think of the dialect? Not what I expected but it worked for me.

Also, I came across this interview with Katie Couric. I was surprised to see that Stockett is so soft-spoken. I don’t know why, but I imagined her to be a lot more aggressive and vocal. I also think it’s interesting that the book groups they feature in this clip are all white.

Source: I won this book in a contest.

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38 thoughts on “Review: The Help”

  1. I was surprised by Stockett in the interview as well, for the same reasons. 🙂

    Glad you enjoyed this book – I was leery about the hype as well, but I thought it was a great book!

  2. This was my #1 read in 2009. It’s hard to believe I read it almost a year ago this month! I recently listened to the audio and loved it just as much, if not more. Hearing those rich voices of Aibileen, Minny, and Skeeter was a treasure. My heartstrings were tugged rather roughly toward the end, making it difficult to drive while wiping my tears here and there. If you ever get the chance, maybe in a year or so, give the audio a listen. You won’t be disappointed.

    BTW, I listened to that interview with Couric, as well, and loved listening to Stockett’s voice. She is very soft-spoken and proper, isn’t she?

    Lovely review.

    1. I would love to hear this on audio. I shy away from audio sometimes because the narrator isn’t always true to the voice that I imagine in my head but you and a few others have mentioned the audiobook and so far, nothing but good comments. Didn’t you just love the interaction between Mae Mobley and Aibileen? I teared up many times.

    1. You really need to read it. You’ll want to after seeing that interview. When I think of blacks working as maids I tend to think that this was something that was practiced a long, long time ago even though I am aware of the timeframe. Hearing Stockett’s interview and knowing that she is about my age really makes one think.

  3. Like Les, this was my #1 book read for 2009. I was just swept away in this story. I haven’t listened to the interview yet, but I will. I’ve been trying to get this one set up for my library book group since early last year. The hold list is still too long. Maybe in the fall. We have one group member who is 60-ish and who grew up in Mississippi. She’s was a little worried about reading it when I first mentioned it to the group. Since that time, she’s read it and says it is completely true to her experience growing up in a moderately well-to-do family in the Deep South. She had an Abileen in her life. I feel the group needs to read it for her comments alone.

    1. It would be neat to have someone from Mississippi discuss it from her point of view. I fell in love with these characters. When Stockett spoke of Aibileen and Mae Mobley, I could just picture the two of them before me. I just wanted to reach out and touch them.

    1. It should be coming out in paperback soon. I think it will get a lot more readers once it does. I like the UK cover of the book better. I think it is closer to what the book is about. I wonder what the US paperback cover will be like. I know a lot of folks that had no idea what it was even about.

      I’m rambling a bit today as you can see 😉

  4. We were fortunate to pick up an advance reading copy at the southern independent booksellers alliance conference and to meet the author. She was a delight to speak with and “the help” is a novel that will perpetually grace our shelves.

  5. I felt the same way toward the end of this; it seemed like the tension was built up so much but that it fell a little flat. But, overall, I thought the book was so good, it was well worth reading. I loved watching Skeeter grow throughout this book.

    1. I’m going to need a refresher on some of the books my group picked this year as well as I plan to read them early. That’s the plan anyway 😉

  6. I have this one and I’m planning on reading it soon.

    “The Help is the kind of book that you make time for, no matter how busy your schedule” Very true, some books you have to make the time to read them.

  7. I enjoyed your review, Ti, and am appreciative of the link to the interview. It was very interesting to see Ms. Stockett and hear her speak about the book. I cannot wait for the movie.

  8. I listened to this on audio and loved it. I had no issues with the dialect as so many people did. I have given this book out as a gift. I’m forever thankful to the friend who told me about it!

  9. Great review Tina. I loved it also–could not put it down at times. While I finished it in the beginning of February, I still find myself thinking of the characters in the book.
    So glad you liked it after putting it off for fear of disliking it.
    *smiles*

  10. WHAAAT?? You criticized THE HELP, even with just a minor quibble???

    No, just kidding. I’m really glad you enjoyed it, I loved it. I’m almost waiting to find a negative review though.

  11. I really loved this book also. I read it a year ago while on vacation in the mountains. Everytime I think of this book, I remember that vacation. I can remember exactly where I was in the cabin when I read certain parts. That says alot for a novel I read that long ago (for me and memory anyway).

    Im glad that you finally read it and enjoyed it.

  12. Despite the hype, I really found The Help to be a page-turner, and the dialect didn’t bother me at all. Lovely review, thank you, Ti! Now I’m off to check out the interview, am interested to hear Stockett 🙂

  13. Like you, I avoid books that everyone else loves – I feel like they never stack up. Maybe you’re right that we both had pacing problems at the end. Tho for me, I didn’t feel as if it sped up, just that it all tied together too neatly.

    Great review!

  14. I read The Help as an ARC last year and it was my favorite book of the year. I discussed it with my book club earlier this year. The dialect issue came up as this has been a source of some mixed opinions about the book among southerners and african americans. Some say it’s accurate and others say it is not. I’m going to listen to the interview with the author, thanks for posting the link!

  15. This book is an exception to my usual rule that I skip books with hype. I love southern fiction and story about women. I am very anxious to read it except the publisher has shamelessly postponed releasing paperback.

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