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The Help Hardcover – Feb. 10 2009
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Aibileen is a black maid in 1962 Jackson, Mississippi, who’s always taken orders quietly, but lately she’s unable to hold her bitterness back. Her friend Minny has never held her tongue but now must somehow keep secrets about her employer that leave her speechless. White socialite Skeeter just graduated college. She’s full of ambition, but without a husband, she’s considered a failure.
Together, these seemingly different women join together to write a tell-all book about work as a black maid in the South, that could forever alter their destinies and the life of a small town...
Frequently bought together
“The two principal maid characters...leap off the page in all their warm, three dimensional glory...[A] winning novel.”—The New York Times
“This could be one of the most important pieces of fiction since To Kill a Mockingbird…If you read only one book...let this be it.”—NPR.org
“Wise, poignant...You’ll catch yourself cheering out loud.”—People
“Graceful and real, a compulsively readable story.”—Entertainment Weekly
“A beautiful portrait of a fragmenting world.”—The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“The must-read choice of every book club in the country.”—The Huffington Post
“At turns hilarious and heart-warming.”—Associated Press
“In a page-turner that brings new resonance to the moral issues involved, Stockett spins a story of a social awakening as seen from both sides of the American racial divide.”—The Washington Post
About the Author
- ASIN : 0399155341
- Publisher : G.P. Putnam's Sons; 1st edition (Feb. 10 2009)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 464 pages
- ISBN-10 : 9780399155345
- ISBN-13 : 978-0399155345
- Item weight : 689 g
- Dimensions : 15.75 x 3.56 x 23.62 cm
- Best Sellers Rank: #111,167 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Top reviews from Canada
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We watch the movie afterward as a wrap-up to the book. Do not watch the movie. I was very disappointed. Not worth the time in my opinion. Most movies don't do the books justice but this one is way better just left read. The book was very enjoyable.
In the Help, Skeeter comes home from school and is looking for work writing (instead of settling down with an eligible prospect). The only job she can find is writing a Household Cleaning advice column. The problem is she has never cleaned anything in her life, but takes the job and get her good friend's hired help to help her answer the questions. In doing so, she starts taking a closer look at Abby's life and treatment, while she searches for the truth behind the departure of her own maid while she was at school. In a (rash) attempt to impress an important editor and get into the work she wants to write about, Skeeter promises to write an expose about the hired help. Seems good on paper, but finding maids willing to talk about their experiences will be difficult as, if it got out, their lives could be ruined.
This book is definitely worth a read. Kathryn Stockett manages to tackle some very deep issues in a well-written, easy read. The book is written in a light tone, with humour throughout the pages.
I have not seen the movie yet but I doubt it does it justice, so I am still hesitant if to see it or not, as I would not want to erase the bubbling joy I felt when listening to this book, a crescendo of laughter, the audio book being very beautifully read by different women (each with their own perspective - following the book trail) and that makes such a difference, for the originality of the language is preserved and thoroughly enjoyed.
The main story in itself is not too complicated and almost entirely revealed by the movie trailer. There is a Southern young girl freshly returned from college who realises more and more she does not fit in with her young friends, whose ideas of life involve getting a husband (primary reason for a girl to go to college in those days), making some babies, mostly a sense of duty and not necessarily desire of motherhood, and then shopping, hair parlour, having nails done, make-up carefully applied, and more frequent than not, torturing the help. The girl wants to write more than anything and gets the idea of writing about the help, controversial and dangerous subject but the only one approved by a publishing house. The time of the narration makes all things extremely inciting as it takes place during the civil rights movement in the United States, when and where racism is as hard as it gets.
The other stories are related and referring to the main story, they complete it via different perspectives, those of black women servants stripped of so much and having to stoop to the lowest of lows although inexplicably - even to themselves- they are also the nannies for the white babies, from conception to almost maturity. Life is hard but they keep on living, there is poverty, marital abuse, futile death and malicious unpunished injury, so much injustice that it makes you cringe. (...) See the entire review at allwords.ca
Top reviews from other countries
At times the plot is ironic: How bizarre that you would allow a woman to care for your young children and cook your food but not want them to use your toilet because they have "different diseases". At times it's funny. At times it's angry. At times it's full of tension, fear and suspense.
Some people have taken exception to the way the black women's speech is rendered but I found it quite helpful. To those who were bored, God help you.
The best thing about this book for me was the warmth and camaraderie of the black maids amongst themselves, their unswerving loyalty and genuine love and affection. I loved how Aibileen and Minny (and their community) looked out for each other both in the past and as the story progressed and disasters loomed.
Maybe it’s just me, but there’s something about reading stories (or watching programmes/films) about people who are merely friends sharing the kind of love, loyalty and bond we normally consider is reserved for blood family only. I love that the human heart can be so big and it challenges me to consider my own relationships and whether I’ve been all that a friend can be to others in the past.
The contrast between the relationships between these black female maids and the relationship they have with the white families they work for could not be more stark. The black maids do pretty much all the domestic work in the house, including cooking, cleaning, ironing, shopping, child-rearing and serving their white counterparts and their guests when occasion demands.
They essentially play the most intimate role possible in running the household, being responsible for such personal chores as washing marital bedsheets to the crucial pivotal role of raising their children.
I liked the way Kathryn Stockett champions these maids and gives us gentle insight into what their jobs were really like. How they run their own schedule as far as possible despite often unfair demands and how they take great pride in working hard and carrying out their work to a high standard. It occurred to me that the black maids actually did all the work that in our time for most of us, only our own mothers would normally do for us as we were growing up.
Yet despite this, the black women in this book are viewed as inferior lower class human beings, and treated with gross and insulting insensitivity as a daily occurrence.
And much worse, we are introduced to the very real danger to their own and their families livelihoods and lives, purely by virtue of their colour. Theirs is a fearful existence from where there is no real escape and the future of their children is as dangerous and as doomed as their own. I can only imagine what it must have been like to be a black person at that time. In my own mind I can’t help but feel that they were paid but they were still slaves in the system to a great extent.
One of the novel and cleverest features of this book for me was the way Katheryn Stockett tells the story through the voices of three main characters, Aibileen, Minny and Miss Skeeter. They are essentially our heroines and they lead us through a series of events that build on each other towards a new phase in history.
In particular, I loved how Katheryn Stockett illustrated the very real experiences of black females through two very different black women working as maids in different households within the same town community. Both handle themselves completely differently to one another, yet both find it nearly impossible to escape the indignities of the time that are forced upon them.
My favourite of the two maids was easily Aibileen, her kindness, wisdom, silent feistiness and ability to keep her own counsel even when pushed to her limits were worthy of great admiration. Her inner strength, insight and secret intelligence warmed me to her and I especially loved reading how she wrote her magical prayers for the benefit of others every night. (And also to retain her writing skill!) I really loved that the most - her deep compassion for others.
Minny was a fascinating character, described as being mouthy initially and then when we are given access to her own mind and thoughts, I loved reading about the internal conflicts she faced daily between speaking her mind and retaining some decorum, and even on occasion extending kindness and compassion. The sarcastic and dry humoured nature of her thoughts really made me laugh out loud at times. It was impossible not to warm towards her too in the end. As well as be shocked by the revelations of her own personal battles.
The third protagonist, Miss Skeeter was a more challenging character for me. Her naivety, self-absorption and oblivion of what she was asking of the black maids frustrated me. As did the limited extent of her kindness towards them. Although unlike her peers, she recognised them as fellow human beings worthy of basic courtesies and respect, it frustrated me that she stopped wildly short of extending any real or solid and meaningful and transformative acts of kindness.
And I think that’s part of what makes this such a great book to read, the character development.
Miss Skeeter starts off as the best of a bad lot (ie her neighbouring white counterparts who all have black maids too in their homes) but she is still fairly selfish and shallow and self-absorbed in the beginning nevertheless.
As the story progresses however, we see her character gradually develop and mature and gain more insight and perspective into the plight of those more unfortunate around her. We see her take more risks, for the right reasons instead of just self-serving needs and ultimately we see her champion the right cause for the right reasons. She finally truly sees, understands and appreciates the black maids she writes of and begins to genuinely care for them as a true friend would. Irrespective of colour or social boundaries. I love that. Redemption!
Aibileen and Minny also grow meaningfully as their characters develop and there is much to celebrate as they defeat their own inner and real demons as the novel progresses to a close.
Katheryn Stockett does not offer the same grace to the villains in the book, Miss Hilly and Miss Elizabeth. They remain firmly entrenched in their own views and are unsaveable it seems. I guess this reflects real life. Even when racial segregation was outlawed, and even today, there are still some of us unable to break free of the shackles of such shameful prejudice. I imagine it will be a few generations more before colour stops being such a prevalent reasoning for the mistreatment of others who are in some way different to us.
I really enjoyed the way we are told the story through the eyes of three different women, each relaying a chapter of their own in first person before handing the baton over to the next protagonist. I loved the cliff-hangers at the end of almost every chapter and I enjoyed the initial overlap in story telling between our three different heroines in the first half of the book.
I think Katheryn Stocket is such a brilliant storyteller. The voices of Aibileen and Minny seemed authentic to me and I was shocked when I discovered the author was white! I fully slid into each character as we progressed from chapter to chapter. And I couldn’t help feeling (happily) frustrated when the chapter ended and I had to wait and read about another character and her dilemmas before I could return to resolve the mystery of the prior character! I can see in retrospect just how cleverly the book has been written!
In fact this was one of those book where I barely noticed myself admiring the writing at the time of reading, because I was so fully engaged and absorbed in the story. Katheryn Stockett is such a master story-teller, she pulled me right in and kept me there, flowing from one character to the next, scared at some moments, exhilarated at others, hurt and frustrated in turn and increasingly nervous and anxious and excited as the plot advanced and we began to draw to a close.
I would say the suspense was excellent and she took me through the full range of emotions with each character in turn for very different reasons in each case. I think there were very few plotholes if any, (I have to confess Skeeters bag drove me nuts! And the preceeding toilets-on-the-front-lawn scene was a little too much for me!). I enjoyed every part of the story, except perhaps The Benefit. (I just kept wishing someone would give Miss Celia a coat or a shawl or something to afford the poor foolish soul some modesty. And I didn't love the Terrible Awful Thing....!!!!)
The relationship between Minny and Miss Celia was a particular favourite of mine too. I loved being in that kitchen with them for some reason! Those scenes had everything, a burgeoning friendship between two unlikely individuals, distrust, miscommunication, switched roles to teacher-student, lessons gone wrong, work interruptions, vulnerabilities, a growing loyalty and affection between the two, mutual life-saving incidents and eventual genuine mutual trust, love, respect and appreciation.
Overall I’ll give this book a happy 4 out of 5. If I could, I’d give it 4.5!
Although there’s so much I have omitted and so much more I could say about it, I’ll surmise by saying it made me feel good because of the warmth of the relationships and the incredible inner strength and resilience the female characters possessed and developed. I loved the multi-faceted plot and that things turned out mostly good in the end. And I valued being given plenty of opportunities to laugh (courtesy of Minny) amidst actually a very serious topic.
Perhaps most importantly, it gave me a chance to see what it must be like to live in another person’s skin. Thrice over.
I think Katheryn Stockett did a marvellous job of helping me remember that not only is mine not the only perspective, but that I know far less about other people and cultures and history than I realise.
There are things I will never understand or know and I’ll be the poorer for it unless I have the wisdom and compassion to leave my own views and prejudices behind and step into another person’s world – particularly one which is nothing like my own.
The voices of the various characters come through very strongly and reflect their individuality, both the "help" and the one person from the other side of the fence who is willing to take a step in their direction, although the initial move is out of self-interest. The shift in her position and understanding is significant, but along the way reveals that others may be more sympathetic than she has realised, but feel obliged to keep their views hidden. The complexity of relationships- from both sides - is well explored, as is the impact on the social structure in the area.
It is hard to believe how relatively recently all this occurred but it is also very relevant at a time when it is clear that equality issues are still high on the agenda in USA. Highly recommend this book.