by Kathryn Stockett
Oh my my my…where do I begin? This was such a delightful novel. A breath of fresh air, if you will. A true piece of literature that everyone should read. If you haven’t guessed, I absolutely loved this little treat.
I’m usually a few years behind in reading books. I’m not one to run to the book store and buy best sellers when they’re released. This is because I have a library full of books, a book buying addiction, and by the time I get to some of them it’s years later when the buzz has all but disappeared. The Help has been sitting in my “To Read” bookcase for a couple of years now. I’m glad I waited until my down time to read this because I couldn’t put it down!
The year is 1962, when a woman’s main purpose in life is to get married, have kids, and cater to them all while maintaining a perfect smile like it’s the best thing since the invention of the vacuum cleaner. Skirts are no shorter than a kneecap. Hair is professionally washed, cut, teased, and sprayed. Lips are rarely seen without a fake shade of pink or red. Pantyhose are worn every day and driving gloves are a staple.
The location is Jackson, Mississippi. Words like, “colored” and “Negro” are used without a twinge of awkwardness. There’s a grocery store for the white folks and a separate one for the colored folks. The white neighborhood is set apart from the colored neighborhood by a bridge. Every thing in Jackson is separated: The bathrooms, the restaurants, the libraries, and especially the jobs.
Each chapter is a different character. We have Aibileen, who is a black maid working for Elizabeth Leefolt. Aibileen is raising Mrs. Leefolt’s daughter, making her the seventeenth white child she has taken care of in her life. Aibileen lives alone, but loves that baby she’s taking care of.
Minny is a black maid working for old Miss Walter. Minny is sassy but Miss Walter is nearly deaf so it works out. Miss Walter has a daughter, Hilly, who’s the most popular woman in town. She heads committees and all the other woman strive to be friends with her. Minny gets fired because Hilly puts Miss Walter in a home and she ends up working for Celia, who married Hilly’s ex-boyfriend. Hilly does not like her so she of course has no friends.
Skeeter (real name, Eugenia) is a white woman in her early twenties just coming home from college. Her mama is disappointed she didn’t find a husband while away learning. Isn’t that the whole point of college? Skeeter is friends with Elizabeth Leefolt and Hilly. They all went to school together but Elizabeth and Hilly found themselves men to marry. They all meet up to play bridge, plan charity events, and make sure the town is in order.
Hilly and Elizabeth treat the help like help. They are there to clean the house, raise their children, cook them dinner, and to serve their guests. Skeeter was raised by a black woman, Constantine, so she’s polite.
Skeeter, Aibileen, and Minny end up coming together to work on a dangerous project together. It’s a book about what it’s like for a black maid working for white folks. In the heat of racism and the civil rights movement, Skeeter is determined to become the writer she always dreamed of becoming and getting the hell out of Jackson, Mississippi.
This story just plucks at your heart-strings. I loved Skeeter because she’s nice, smart, and wants something better for not only herself but for people around her. Aibileen is sweet and patient. Minny is spicy and I love her attitude. Elizabeth irritated me because she just did whatever Hilly wanted her to do. Oooooh and Hilly…that woman made my blood boil. She acts like Miss Perfect but she is the biggest bitch. She made me want to reach into the book and smack her square across her perfectly made up face. She’s nosey, bossy, and thinks all the black maids should have their own separate bathroom outside of the house because they’re dirty and diseased. The things that come out of that woman’s mouth.
The character development in this book is superb. When I got to the end of each chapter I was sad because I was so wrapped up in the character’s story. But then the next chapter and character come along and I was just as sucked in as the last. I could picture each person clearly and it was almost like watching a movie in my mind. I also found it commendable that the author wrote in first person for the African-American characters. I’m sure she struggled with that aspect of the story, being white herself.
The author’s writing is excellent. There were sentences that made me stop and reread them again because I loved the way they sounded or how something was described.
“I let Mother’s words sit like a tiny, sweet candy on my tongue.”
Every word and sentence just flow like smooth molasses. I didn’t want it to end and was pretty teared up in some parts. The story made me thankful that I live in a time when separation isn’t as prominent (not that it doesn’t exist. Because it does indeed. We’re just allowed to use the same facilities). When racism isn’t looked at as an okay thing.
There is a little note at the end from the author. She writes about her own life in Jackson, Mississippi during the sixties and her maid so I think her perspective on the times is pretty good.
If you haven’t read this novel, I highly recommend that you do. But do so when you’re alone and it’s quiet so you can breathe it all in, each sentence at a time.