Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Help

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Bridge Clubs

Three ordinary women are about to take one extraordinary step.

Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.

Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.

Minny, Aibileen's best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody's business, but she can't mind her tongue, so she's lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.

Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed. (

This book takes place in a very tumultuous time in our country's history: the time right before integration and the civil rights movement. It is a time period that I, sadly, am not too familiar with, but I want to get to know it better especially after having read Kathryn Stockett's The Help. Stockett inserts moments in history as if they were just blips on the radar for the characters, and I like that. It makes it seem more realistic and not as overdone if these historical days seem more like a casual everyday thing. For example, characters mention Martin Luther King, Jr. and the rallies every once in awhile as if it was just another day, but we know now how great an impact King had on the civil rights movement.

The humor in Stockett's novel is poignant and witty. I liked that it didn't take itself too seriously and yet there were some serious undertones throughout the whole thing. Miss Skeeter is a likable character. Aibileen's chapters were a little harder to get through because of the slang, but you get used to it pretty quick and then you find yourself talking like her.

(Warning: Next part contains what could be interpreted as spoilers.)

I was also trying to see symbolism in this book and I was not disappointed. I found it mostly in the characters themselves. The one I noticed the most was Celia Foote, the "hussy" who hires Minny to help her around the house and refuses to tell her husband. She was such an interesting character because she seemed to be blind to color and societal boundaries. In Celia we find an attitude that is later adopted. She is a forward-thinking, modern woman who is played out to be the idiot in the book because she befriends Minny and she doesn't notice that Hilly and her racist friends don't want anything to do with her. It is the beautiful moment of clarity when she realizes that Hilly, who represents superior racism and entitlement, is not all she's cracked up to be that we see Celia's innocence is lost. I was disturbed by the scene in which a naked man tries to attack Minny and Celia, and I couldn't figure out why it was in the book until Celia saves Minny. That, for me, was when Celia became the savior of the novel and the true heroine.

I haven't seen the movie yet, but I am dying to see it. I can already tell, just from the previews, that they have changed a lot of it. All in all this is a fantastic story. The writing is excellent, the themes in it are superb, and the characters are unforgettable. I gave it 4.5 out of 5 Bridge Clubs.

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