When Jessica shared her list of books for the 2011 Booking It season, one book in particular drew my attention: The Help by Kathryn Stockett. I picked up a copy (used) through Amazon and took it down to Florida last month in the hopes that I would get some reading done on the beach. I got about three chapters read and brought it back home to finish.
Technically this is the book discussion for the August link-up so I'm a month early, but I'm begging your indulgence since it's also the book I read (and finished) in the last month. I have a couple other books in process (like The Unbearable Lightness of Scones and On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness), but I haven't had time to finish them yet. For more book recommendations, make sure you check out July's Life as MOM Booking It post.
If you haven't read The Help yet, go find yourself a copy and get started! I was totally surprised by this book and amazed (once again) that this was a debut novel for the author. Stockett did a wonderful job setting the tone of the story and creating memorable and lovable (and hate-able) characters. Minny, Aibileen, Skeeter, Celia, even Hilly and Elizabeth, are easy to see as real people. People who are hurting, who have seen violence, who are just learning of the injustice that occurs, and who are ready to do whatever it takes to protect their way of life (in the case of Hilly).
It's a story of life in 1960's Jackson, Mississippi. For the maids - Aibileen, Minny, and a host of others - life revolves around trying to keep their tongue in check and taking care of the white kids until the day that the children stop being colorblind. They deal with fear and death and being wrongly accused of stealing and even the accusations that come when their own child is too fair skinned.
When Skeeter, being a bit of a misfit and outcast herself, comes up with the idea of writing the maids stories, you want to cheer. Finally, people like Miss Hilly will get their one-uppance. And yet Stockett doesn't gloss over the danger that this book brings into the lives of the help - losing jobs, death threats, possible imprisonment.
One of the things that I really appreciated about this story is the realism that Stockett wrote into the story. Yes, things work out for Skeeter (even though she remains unmarried), but her departure is bitter-sweet and the ongoing Constantine story doesn't end in happiness and daisies. Aibileen manages to make an impact on Mae Mobley and stay out of prison, but in the end, she's still faced with an uncertain future (but feels hope as well). Minny finally faces her demons and escapes with the promise of a secure job, but it's hard not to wonder what took her so long.
The stories in this book aren't packaged up in neat endings - it's messy and hard and things don't always work out the way you want them to - much like real life. In a previous post, I mentioned that it was a gentle look at a very serious topic - and I stand by that statement. There were times when the women in this book had me laughing out loud. Minny is a ball of fire. Aibileen silently protests while doing her job. Skeeter's light bulb moment when she finally stops trying to be something she's not, is delightful.
No matter how you slice it, this book wasn't about color - it was about prejudice. White Skeeter was cast out because of her unconventional thinking and for crossing the invisible line. Yes, Aibileen and Minny felt the prejudice on a daily basis because of their skin color, but white Celia would never be accepted into the Jackson social circle because she was born on the "wrong" side of the tracks. As Skeeter realizes after talking to Lou Anne, "There is so much you don't know about a person. [...] But Lou Anne, she understood the point of the book before she ever read it."
Four out of Five Stars: There are some graphic scenes and language scattered throughout this book, but even with that taken into consideration, I would recommend this book.