25 March 2010

The Help

Aibilene has spent most of her life working as a maid for well-to-do white families in Jackson, Mississippi. Her friend Minnie has done likewise, though with her sharp tongue job opportunities are few and far between. The two friends think that nothing will ever change in their world, which is ruled by cooking, cleaning, and ironing for others, though the civil rights movement has been at work for some time in the early 1960s. Then Aibilene is asked by her employer's friend, Skeeter Philan, a well-to-do recent college graduate who is desperate to become a writer but is expected to marry well instead, if she wants things to change. Aibilene is at first reluctant to discover what Skeeter has in mind, but once she finds out what Skeeter's plan is, she reluctantly agrees to help. The project they embark on could lead to both Aibilene and Minnie being fired or worse, and Skeeter being forever shunned, but they decide that the risk is worth it.

After reading Shutter Island, a grim noir set in 1950s Massachusetts, I needed an upbeat read. The Help was the exact opposite of Shutter Island--a bittersweet but ultimately triumphant tale set in 1960s Mississippi--and fit the bill perfectly. This book, which was a surprise bestseller last summer, was recommended to me by both my good friends Maddie and Claire. Thanks so much! I thoroughly enjoyed it!

The Help was author Kathryn Stockett's debut novel and I am very impressed! This is a very well-crafted novel, on all fronts. The plot is an uplifting examination of friendship and courage that is easy to relate to. Stockett also manages to build and maintain a tremendous amount of dramatic tension in what could have been a dreary domestic setting. Rather than relying on false plot twists to sustain reader interest, Stockett uses her characters' interactions with each other to build suspense and the result is a page-turner that I couldn't put down. Stockett also does a superb job of creating authentic period detail. This is a novel that is very much grounded in realism and the author paints a portrait of the South that is biased in neither direction, which is quite refreshing. Rather than being heavy-handed and lecturing about the injustice of the era, she shows it in action, and that is ultimately far more effective and poignant.

The real draw of this novel, though, is the characters. Aibilene, Minnie, and Skeeter are all complex characters, each with their own set of flaws and virtues, who are immensely likeable and utterly unforgettable. I am always kvetching about 2-D female characters and Stockett certainly avoids this in her novel. One major strength of this book is the narration, which is written in first person narration that alternates between Aibilene, Minnie, and Skeeter (in addition to one third person chapter). Each character has her own distinctive voice, and the Southern accents in the narration and dialogue are perfect. Overdone accents is a major pet peeve of mine, but Stockett--who was born and raised in Mississippi, went to college in Alabama, and currently lives in Georgia--makes their voices authentic, and the result is a delight to read.

The Help is a wonderful debut novel that is a blast to read. This is a book that truly is heart-warming, a phrase that ol' cynical me rarely applies to a book. I hope Stockett plans on writing more books. If they are anything at all like her first novel, reading them will be a pleasure.

Next Time: Hmm...I am not sure. My spring break is winding down, so I kind of have to, you know, study some this week. I have a couple of books I am reading now, but I am not sure if I'll blog on them. If I do find something to blog about, I'll post a review this weekend and then the next installation of "The Unblogged Chronicles" next week. If I don't come up with something, I'll post "The Unblogged Chronicles" this weekend and have a review ready for next Wednesday. That's the plan, anyway. (Nobody is allowed to mention how much I often don't follow my plans. I don't want to hear it! *covers ears with hands and hums an annoying tune*)


  1. This was fantastic! I absolutely loved this book (I'm rereading it now) so I'm glad you enjoyed it too!

    And wow, you can really write!

  2. Yay, rebel! Thanks so much for following and commenting and the sweet compliment! :)

    Thanks again for the awesome book recommendation! I adored this book. I saw that a movie adaptation is in the works. I sure hope they don't butcher this excellent story. :)

  3. Now Zella, this is unacceptable! Why are you reviewing all these NEW novels all of a sudden, EH?! Where's the old-fashioned Zella who reviews century-old books that we all know and love? Huh?

    No, but seriously, this sounds like a great book. I've seen it several times on the bestseller list in the LA Times, and was intrigued since it's been on there for so long. :D Not sure it's my type of book, but I'm glad you enjoyed it.


  4. LOL Old-fashioned Zella's still here. She just finally came to the realization that the classics are awesome and deserve recognition, but good books are still being written and also deserve recognition. Also, erm, it is impossible for me to read tons of classics when I am in school. My poor little brain needs a rest, so I rely on newer works (including more modern classics.) I'll have some Kafka up soon though. Happy?! :D

    Thanks, Scott! It really is a great book. You might like it. It has a lot of humor and great writing, and it certainly isn't chick lit, which I know isn't your cup of tea. This is more like literary fiction. :)