The Help by Kathryn Stockett is one of the best novels I’ve read in a long time. This is a stunning debut by an exceptional writer. The Help was first published in 2009 and has since been adapted into a successful film.
Set against the backdrop of the Civil Rights movement in 1960’s America, The Help is about a young white woman named Skeeter who forms an unlikely friendship with the hired help, Aibileen and Minny. Skeeter works together with Aibileen and Minny to document what it is like for black domestics to work for white families in Jackson, Mississippi.
My review – contains spoilers!
This is a thought-provoking book about women who cross class, social and racial barriers during the 1960s in Jackson, Mississippi. I found it believable and moving.
The three main characters are all likeable and wonderful in their own, unique way. In fact, all the characters in the book are three-dimensional. I like that there are three narrators because Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny’s stories interweave. It also allows the main characters to give their own perspective on the events around them.
The villain of the book is Hilly. She is the kind of character you love to hate. Hilly is a racist and dead set against racial integration – she tries to pass the Home Help Sanitation Initiative. The irony is that she raises proceeds for the Poor Starving Children of Africa! Hilly also has a sinister side to her: she is powerful and can ruin people’s lives if she falls out with them. Yule May ends up in prison because of Hilly’s influence. This is what spurs on the maids to agree to share their stories with Aibileen and Skeeter.
In contrast to Hilly, there is Celia who is a good employer to Minny. Celia treats Minny like a human being and they develop a lasting friendship. Minny is fiercely defensive of Celia: she can criticise Celia but does not allow others to do so. I think this is similar to how Kathryn Stockett stated she feels about Mississippi. One of my favourite moments in the book is the Benefit which culminates in a spectacular showdown between Celia and Hilly.
There are some tense, nail-biting moments in The Help which makes it a thrilling read. The maids are all brave and they take a big risk by telling Skeeter their stories. As Minny articulates:
And I know there are plenty of other “coloured” things I could do besides telling my stories or going to Shirley Boon’s meetings – the mass meetings in town, the marches in Birmingham, the voting rallies upstate. But truth is, I don’t care that much about voting. I don’t care about eating at a counter with white people. What I care about is, if in ten years, a white lady will call my girls dirty and accuse them of stealing the silver.
Minny is doing this for the children – she wants them to be treated equally. I think this book examines a basic human need, that is, wanting to be accepted for who you are.
The Help is now one of my favourite books. It’s a heartwarming story with strong female characters, a compelling plot and a great message.
My rating: ★★★★★