Review: ‘The Help’

the helo

The Help

by Katheryn Stockett

  • Date finished: July 2, 2013
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Year: 2009
  • Project: n/a
  • Reading List: Summer 2013
  • Grade: A-
  • Thoughts upon reading:

I heard of The Help when it first came out in 2009. At the time, I was studying at NYU’s Summer Publishing Institute and my roommate was a wealthy but sweet girl from South Carolina. One day, when we were out and about ogling at New York, visiting bookstores and eating cheap falafel, she told me her aunt had called recently and told her, “Run, don’t walk, to the nearest bookstore and buy The Help.”

Lauren grew up in a time and place that still had traces (believe it or not) of the world described in Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, the story of three women in Jackson, Mississippi in the mid-1960’s who dare tell the world what it’s really like being a black woman in the segregated South. A movie was made shortly thereafter, so I’m assuming we’re all pretty familiar with the book. Everyone was reading it at the time, book clubs were discussing it, reading guides were written, yada yada yada. It was definitely one of those books.

Usually, I avoid those books like the plague until about 5 years later, when the buzz has finally died down. It hasn’t been five years, but it’s still pretty close. My thoughts? I definitely flew through The Help because damn it, the story is engaging. Once I made it about three-quarters of the way in, I was reading as much as I can because I had to know how it all ended. Did they publish their book? What was going to happen? What was the “Terrible Awful” that Minny did her white lady, and really, was it so terrible or awful? I finished the book feeling very satisfied, and even found myself laughing at parts.

That all being said, now that I’ve had time to think on The Help for a few days, I have to say I was a little confused about how I should be feeling, and a little disappointed as well. The Help isn’t a heavy book. It appears that Kathryn Stockett didn’t write it as such. The movie trailer makes it seem like a funny, feel-good afternoon chick flick. Reading it with this in mind, however, I was surprised at how dark some of it was – or at least, how many parts alluded to darkness. Talking about race relations in Jackson was a very dangerous choice to make in the mid-1960’s. The book talks about the shooting death of a local NAACP leader, and how one black maid is sentenced to life in prison after she steals one necklace, all so she can send her twin boys to college. The black maids that participate in the project worry about losing their jobs and their reputation, men coming to their homes at night, burning crosses … even death. This all seems mighty heavy for a “feel good” book about women, and I wish Stockett would have either paid more attention to it or perhaps laid off on the goofiness.

Also, I felt slightly disappointed in the ending. Everything wraps up nicely enough (sorry if that’s a spoiler), however it all just seems too nice. Stockett doesn’t spend nearly enough time discussing what happens after the book comes out, particularly the long-term effects. Maids are losing their jobs all over Jackson, but are they being rehired? Does the book change any opinions at all? Plus, we see our main villian, Hilly Holbrook, properly embarrassed, but at the very end, it still seems like she’s won. That just doesn’t seem … right. I finished expecting an Afterward or something similar, and got nothing.

All that being said, The Help really is a wonderful book and one I’d definitely recommend. In fact, this may be the first time I’ve actually read something “summer-worthy” during the summer! Hooray for that!

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