Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Help by Kathryn Stocket

In which a woman in 1960s Mississippi shakes up her community by interviewing black maids for a tell-all book.

This is way outside the genres I normally read being fictional, but not science fiction, young adult, or fantasy, but I definitely enjoyed it!  It didn't really make me laugh or cry, but I was totally engaged the whole time and couldn't wait to find out what was happening with certain characters.  I have no basis of comparison to evaluate Stockett's portrayal of racism and culture in the 1960s, but the characters felt real and it was a very compelling book.  I recommend it to adult or young adult readers interested in some light reading that probably has some historical relevance.

Skeeter is just returned from her home town from college.  She needs a job and a way out from under her oppressive mother.  Based on her relationship with the maid working for her family during her childhood, she decides to write a tell-all book based on interviews with black maids in the town.  This is not a popular project among her friends and other people in the town.

Skeeter's story is a surprisingly small part of the book.  Much of the book focuses on two maids, Aibileen and Minny.  They both have challenges involving the families they work for and their home lives that we gradually learn about over the course of the book.  There are a few notable mysteries in the book that I couldn't wait to figure out.  Celia, a white woman in town, is acting strangely for reasons that are at first confusing.  Similarly, Skeeter spends a lot of time trying to figure out what happened to her family's maid, as it's being kept secret from her.  I was really excited about those two plotlines over the course of the story.

Randomly, in the middle of the book, the perspective changes to 3rd person omniscient, with the rest of the story in first person.  It's a scene in which most of the setting's characters are in one place, so I guess Stockett couldn't choose one point of view or switch between.  I thought this was sloppy and lazy!  I hate switching perspective types, and I hate omniscient perspectives unless there is a really good reason for it.

I also have a limited tolerance for books written in dialects, and this book had a lot of that.  All of the maids narrated in 1960s black slang, which was distracting to me.  I guess it probably couldn't have been done another way, but I still find that hard to deal with when reading.

I can't really complain much though.  I really enjoyed this book a great deal.  It's just nice to read!  very engaging and enjoyable read.  I would highly recommend it to adult readers interested in a nice story or about racial relations in America generally.

4/5 stars

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