After hearing Emma Donoghue recommend this book, I of course immediately added it to my list of books to read. So I was ecstatic when I flew home to NC for my aunt Miriam’s wedding that another aunt had a copy I could borrow!
The Help is a fascinating snapshot of the lives of three women, Skeeter—a young college educated white socialite (a bit of an outcast), Aibileen—a black maid who specializes in raising white children, and Minny—a spit-fire black maid who has made her fair share of enemies and works for a woman with secrets that would shock anyone.
Told over one year from the alternating perspectives of Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny we encounter 1960s Jackson, Mississippi and the myriad connections between ‘the help’ and the bosses. Skeeter an aspiring writer made an editor contact in New York who recommends she write about what bothers her and after spending time with her childhood friends, Skeeter realizes how bad ‘the help’ are treated and what they must know. After a series of events in which Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny are thrust together, the idea to author a book exposing the lives of working black women is born, conveniently also called The Help.
The stories encapsulated in the novel are alternately heart warming and gut wrenching. From the gruesome Civil Rights clashes leaving a maid’s grandson blind, to the endearing stories Aibileen teaches Mae Mobley about racial equality, the novel truly paints a picture of what i imagine the 1960s deep south was like. The only book I’ve read that I can compare to this is Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees. I’m sure there are better comparisons and even more interesting contemporary novels of the 1960s, but I truly enjoyed the interesting structure of this novel.
The plot has its ups and downs and lags at some points, but overall The Help is a quick read with a cast of interesting minor characters and empowering major characters. Over the past few months, I’ve heard more and more about this book and know this book is becoming ‘the it book’ of book groups and having read it, I fully understand why. It’s a great and quick beach read (read it in two days), it raises a lot of interesting discussion questions from race and class to gender and individuality, and acts as a great introduction to contemporary southern literature (not that I read too much contemporary – I generally stick to older).
Not many quotes stood out to me, but the three below stood out for different reasons. The first, was the beauty of the comparison and the way it’s phrased. The second, is the luxury and richness of the words. And the third quote made me laugh because if you insert any state/country/region, that’s pretty much how people feel.
Quotes from The Help
“I listened wide-eyed, stupid. Glowing by her voice in the dim light. If chocolate was a sound, it would’ve been Constantine’s voice singing. If singing was a color, it would’ve been the color of that chocolate.” (78)
“When I started typing out her bathroom initiative for the newsletter, typing words like disease and protect yourself and you’re welcome!, it was like something cracked open inside of me, not unlike a watermelon, cool and soothing and sweet. I always thought insanity would be a dark, bitter feeling, but it is drenching and delicious if you really roll around in it.” (407)
“Mississippi is like my mother. I am allowed to complain about her all I want, but God help the person who raises an ill word about her around me, unless she is their mother too.” (528)