Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Review: The Help by Kathryn Stockett

ISBN #: 978-0-425-23220-0
Page Count: 522
Copyright: 2009

Book Summary:
(Taken from back cover)

Aibileen is a black maid in 1962 Jackson, Mississippi, raising her seventeenth white child.  She's always taken orders quietly, but lately it leaves her with a bitterness she can no longer bite back.  Her friend Minny has certainly never held her tongue, or held on to a job for very long, but now she's working for a newcomer with secrets that leave her speechless.  And white socialite Skeeter has just returned from college with ambition and a degree but, to her mother's lament, no husband.  Normally Skeeter would find solace in Constantine, the beloved maid who raised her, but Constantine has inexplicably disappeared.

Together, these seemingly different women join to work on a project that could forever alter their destinies and the life of a small town - to write, in secret, a tell-all book about what it's really like to work as a black maid in the white homes of the South.  Despite the terrible risks they will have to take, and the sometimes humorous boundaries they will have to cross, these three women unite with one intention: hope for a better day.

Mandy's Review:


Color-wise, I like the yellow and purple together.  I think it's pretty.  The three birds, though... that's where the meaning lies.

First of all, when I saw the birds, the first thing that occurred to me was Bob Marley's song "Three Little Birds."  You know the one.  The chorus that tells you:

Don't worry about a thing
Cause every little thing is gonna be alright

After I sang Bob Marley's song (one of my faves, by the way) and began reading the story, I thought of another meaning for the cover.

The two birds that are together represent the two main maids that are telling the stories about their employers.  The bird by itself represents the white lady who is gathering and editing the maid's stories.  They are birds of a feather who cannot flock together because of the Jim Crow laws that govern 1962 Jackson, Mississippi.


The setting for this story was definitely during a strenuous and tumultuous time in our Nation's history.  It takes place in the early 1960's, where well-to-do white women participated in the Junior League and played Bridge.  It was a time where segregation was prevalent and anybody fighting against segregation were punished ... especially in the Deep South.

Every well-to-do white home employed African Americans as maids, gardeners, butlers, etc.  African Americans were looked down upon and thought to be dirty, just because their skin color was different.  It was a dark, ugly time in our Nation's history that, unfortunately, hasn't completely died in some people's minds.

In this book, the various Civil Rights' events were touched upon: Rosa Parks, the sit-in at Woolworth's, Medgar Evers, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s march.  Even former President John F. Kennedy's assassination was briefly touched upon.

The author was very adept at interweaving these real social and political events with a fictional story about two maids and a fed-up white woman.  The interaction between these three main characters were dynamic.  Even the secondary characters were extremely realistic and felt as if you knew them.

The entire book leapt off the page and effortlessly created a movie in your mind's eye.

Main Characters

Aibileen - Stoic, strong, dependable.  Aibileen is the maid that all the other maids look up to.  She moves from various families a lot because she only likes to work for them while their babies are young ... before they get the minds of their parents concerning 'the help.'

Bitter, prayerful, concerned.  Aibileen had an only son who died recently.  The way his death occurred planted the bitter seed in Aibileen's heart.  Despite that, she still wrote her prayers on a regular basis for everybody the Lord set in her heart.

What will happen to Aibileen once it leaks out that she's told her story and it's being published?

Minny - Sassy and dependable.  Minny keeps losing jobs left and right because of her mouth.  She tries to keep what she's thinking inside, but often it just comes out before she can stop herself.  The results are often detrimental to her career.

Scared and self-loathful.  Minny's home life is nothing to brag about.  She has five children and an alcoholic husband who tends to become violent and abusive.  Her only safe getaway is a few houses down at Aibileen's home.

Will Minny lose her job when the people of Jackson read about the Terrible Awful thing she did to her last employer's daughter?  Will her husband finally snap and become murderous when he finds out Minny's been talking to and trusting a white lady with her stories?

Skeeter - Frustrated.  She's tall, skinny and hasn't ever had a steady boyfriend.  Did I mention she's 23 years old?  She longs to be a writer in New York where she can write about things that matter without having to worry about what the other Junior Leaguers would say behind her back.  She's tired of the Bridge meetings and writing the Junior League's newsletter.  She wants more from life ... and she wants to be out of her parent's house!

Daring.  One letter from an editor in New York begins Skeeter thinking.  She decides to write the maids' stories.  IF she can get them to open up and talk to her.  She knows there's a line drawn in everybody's minds between the blacks and whites.  Can she convince the maids she's there to help?  Can the imaginary line be erased and they join together?


I chose to read this book because the movie previews caught my attention.  For this book to be Kathryn Stockett's debut is truly astonishing.  I can see why it was made into a movie right away.  It was original, poignant, thoughtful and gripping.  I don't usually refer to a novel as "gripping," but this one will.  It did me because it talks about one of the issues I feel strongly about: racism and racial equality.

I would definitely recommend this to readers who enjoy a fictional story interspersed with actual historical and political facts.  I know one thing... This book will not be leaving my bookshelf at all.  I only hope and pray the movie does this book justice.

1 comment:

  1. The book makes you think but is written in a simple prose that my 11 year old daughter could enjoy.
    Unconditionally recommended for everyone between the ages of 9 - 99.
    I like this site :: Penguin Friendly One Way Links site info


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