BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

HelpI admit that when one of my favorite friends told me she voluntarily gave up enjoying the blooming delights on a family trip through Death Valley in order to finish The Help, I picked up the book for a second time, determined to find out what soooo many readers were going on about. But again, I gave up.

Something made me try again. Having bought the book early on, I then bought the audible version, determined indeed to ‘read’ the bestseller. I must now admit … some books are just meant to be read aloud. This is definitely one of the best of them.

The narrating talents of Jenna Lamia, Bahni Turpin, Octavia Spencer, and Cassandra Campbell could not be better suited to bring this turbulent, heart-breaking, out-loud laughing, tears freely rolling story to life. To tell you too much would be a disservice … so bare details only are offered here.

In early 1960s Jackson, Miss., best friends Aibileen and Minny are two of the many African American women who have spent their lives serving privileged white employers, cleaning their dysfunctional homes, feeding their family, and raising their neglected children so that the women have plenty of time to gossip, play bridge, and – without even realizing the irony – raise money for the PSCA, the Poor Starving Children of Africa.

When Miss Skeeter Phelan returns home with her Ole Miss college degree, she is shocked to discover that her family’s longtime ‘help,’ Constantine – the beloved woman who raised her – has disappeared without a word. No one will tell her why or where Constantine has gone. Skeeter’s life as she knew it has vanished, and for the first time, she opens her eyes to the endless inequities around her. In spite of losing her lifetime friends, watching her mother wither, and letting go of the love of her life, she finds the strength and courage to tell the truth.

Race, class, gender … the hottest topics (even in this so-called post-racial brave new world) are all here, wrapped up in a story of mother/child love, the bonds of women’s friendship, the invisible dividing lines that some dare not cross while others will and must.

In the final pages, debut novelist Kathryn Stockett pays loving homage in “Too Little, Too Late” to the “family maid, Demetrie” who passed away when Stockett was 16, although not before she cuddled, nurtured, rocked, and loved young Kathryn through her childhood. Stockett rewrites “the one line that I truly prize” from her novel: “Wasn’t that the point of the book? For women to realize, we are just two people. Not that much separates us. Not nearly as much as I’d thought.

Stockett examines her own relationship with her own beloved Demetrie: “I’m pretty sure I can say that no one in my family ever asked Demetrie what it felt like to be black in Mississippi, working for our white family… I’ve spent years imagining what her answer would be. And that is why I wrote this book.”

And that is why, three attempts later, I finally finished The Help filled with frustration, hope, sadness, eye-opening wonder and – with Aibileen’s rich voice ringing with her secret words to Baby Girl Mae Mobley: “You is kind, you is smart. You is important” – with pure gratitude.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2009


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