“The Help” – Kathryn Stockett

It is rare that I read a book and am kept awake at night because I feel so passionate about a character that is new to my world. A character that is not real but who feels so much like a real person that I cannot get them out of my head. In this case, reading “The Help” led to me sitting in my bed seething and imagining what I would do to Hilly if she were to walk into my life as a real person. I must confess that some of my fantasies were quite violent–it is hard not to feel that way about Hilly, trust me.

“The Help” is the first novel written by Kathryn Stockett and has been on the best sellers list for quite a while. I saw people reading it on planes, always in the front racks at Barnes and Noble, and I saw it in my house where my mom left it on my bed at my childhood home after raving about how good it was and how I must read it. So, I picked it up and was amazed by just how right everyone was–this is a phenomenal book.

Taking place in Jackson, Mississippi during some of the most critical years of the Civil Rights Movement, “The Help” emphasizes the impact of the movement on African-American maids working for white families. It also tells the story of a young woman, Skeeter, who quietly and carefully advocates for the rights of black women in her community.

The book does a wonderful job of conveying how brave it was for Skeeter to have such progressive ambitions as every white family member and friend in her life  takes part in unforgivable abuse and prejudice towards the black community. Stockett also explains through instances in the story (some fictional, and some that are quite famous and factual) the risks that were taken by blacks and whites to fight for racial equality.

Oh, and Hilly…Hilly is the quintessential southern debutante who went to college to shop for a husband and whose greatest ambition in life was to become president of the Junior League. She will not be double crossed and is the worst enemy you could ever find. She believes that black people have diseases, that they do not belong in the white world, (except, of course, to serve) and she will stop at nothing to achieve revenge for any wrongdoing. Hilly is evil. Hilly is representative of many southern women that really were just like her. And Hilly made me grit my teeth and think of all the ways I would like to punish her for what she did.

But, the book also presents the incredibly conflicting emotional relationships that existed. Skeeter learns about some of the horrifying things her mother has done while also learning her mother is suffering with cancer–how can she hate her and love her at the same time? And how can the maids who are abused again and again by their white employers love their children as much as they love their own?

I must stop here so you will read it on your own but this book has affected me in ways that I hope to carry with me for a long time. I will not forget it.

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4 thoughts on ““The Help” – Kathryn Stockett

  1. I’m such a huge fan of this book! Like you, it kept me up for hours thinking of what I would’ve done if I lived in that era. As a person raised in the South (albeit in a different generation), I pondered what it must’ve been like to live in South Carolina while integration was happening.

    In fact, it sparked some great conversations between my mother and me (she also read it). She grew up in Greenville, S.C. in the 50s and 60s and had some first hand stories of what it was like going to a segregated high school that became integrated. It was truly fascinating to get that kind of a history lesson from your own family.

    I applaud the author for bringing what is still a relevant issue to light, and starting some much needed conversations on the issue.

    Great post, Kate!

  2. I’ve heard SO many people rave about this book. Unfortunately, it is not at my local Chinese bookstore 🙂 But, I can’t wait to pick up a copy in July! Thanks for the review!

  3. What a great read!!! I felt fully engaged with the characters, and could not put the book down. I was anxious to see how the story played out, but didn’t want it to end. Thanks a million Kathryn Stockett!!! I can’t wait to read your next novel.

  4. “The Help” is a must read. I grew up in the 50s in Ohio and can remember one of the most memorable occurrances in my life, and that was the day when my older brother was called into the principal’s office and told that he must make me stop playing with my best friend. As a white, five year old in kindergarten, my best friend and playmate was a black boy whose name I have long since forgotten, but the thing I can never forget is standing on the other side of the playground and having to watch him stare back at me in disbelief. I can still see him in his white shirt and blue pants and have often wondered where he is today, but the thing I could never understand was why we couldn’t be best friends and play together. As a five year old, I was devastated. If adults could only see through the eyes of children, the world would be a much better place

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