Book Review: "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett

"The Help"
by Kathryn Stockett

book review

by Cynthia Rodriguez

I want to begin by saying this is one of the BEST books I have ever read in my life. AMAZING. A true classic. It's definitely on my top ten list of must-read. Once I started, I couldn't put it down. That doesn't happen too often.

That being said, I think there are many lessons to be learned from this book. I would recommend it to anyone, especially to people down South, where the story is based on.

Apparently, this was one of those beginner's luck, first timer's big hit situations, for Kathryn Stockett, novice novelist. Lucky biotch.

It's a story of this white lady in the South in the 60's, "Skeeter", an aspiring writer, who is sympathetic to the black maids in the area at the time, and decides to write a book about what their lives are like being black maids in the South working for white families, in the 1960's, with a little help from her "co-writer" "Aibileen" (one of the maids) and Aibie's BFF (another maid) "Minny". Not only because she thinks it would give her a shot at being a big time writer, but because she believes it would make an impact on society, help "change things".

Not hard to figure out the main theme of the book: racism. Personally, I cannot believe all this really occured, or I should say I wish it didn't. Now the book itself may or may not be based on a true story, but it doesn't matter, we all know things like this really happened back then, and unfortunetly some of it still does. And this wasn't that long ago. Been about fifty years. When I was born, it had only been not even a decade that segregation was going on, and there were actually public signs up throughout the country talkin' about "white fountain/colored fountain", "colored bathroom", etc. What a disgrace. Slavery didn't end when honest ol' Abe said so. It too MANY years after that for it to truly be over.

You know what truly, absolutely kills me about all this mess? It's the fact that these people, these maids were apparently good enough to raise these white people's own children, holding them, feeding them, change their diapers, (these kids LOVED them), but they weren't good enough to share a BATHROOM with. How retarded is that? It makes NO sense.

If you read the book, after the ending you can see the author's own personal story about her growing up with "The Help". About her own experience being raised by a black maid in her family called "Too Little, Too Late". You can tell she IS "Skeeter". So again, even if it's not a true story, it comes pretty damn close.

Now let's talk about the South for a minute. No, I'm not gonna be one of those "damn yankees" as they call us, and do any kind of south bashing. That's not the point of this paragraph. I have visited the southern part of the Mason-Dixon line a number of times (I'm not including Florida, because I don't really consider them "The South"), and honestly, most of what I saw was very charming. It's true what they say about southern hospitality. Whether some of them are faking it or not, it's still quite lovely, especially compared to the North Eastern's rudeness that makes us, (especially New Yorkers) so popular. I remember many moons ago, when I went to visit a then girlfriend in Birmingham commenting on their cityscape after she picked me up at the bus stop: "Wow, you guys have big buildings!", she responded with, "Yeah, how 'bout that? We also have electricity, and running water!" This slightly awkward moment proved to me us Northerner's sometime sense of superiority amongst our Southern neighbors can be a little obnoxious to some. I went into this little vacay at the time thinking I may never come back to my family because I'd be lynched on some back road by toothless, redneck, hooligans in their beat up pick-up truck, and would drag me kicking and screaming to the nearest Magnolia tree to string me up for being the only Puertorican in Alabama. Of course she DID warn me that there were SOME parts of the state that were still like that, and of course we steered clear of those parts. However to this day, I still can't help feeling some kind of disdain for people who drive around with either a Dixie license plate or Dixie flag. Especially when they live up North, as in PENNSYLVANIA. I think to myself, "HELLO? What do you even KNOW about all that? Is it because you think it looked cute on the "General Lee" car in the "Dukes Of Hazzard"?? And to those in the South still going on about the whole, "THE SOUTH WILL RISE AGAIN", I say PUH-LEEZE, build yourself a bridge, and GET OVER IT ALREADY. That was a LONG time ago, the civil war. You'se guys LOST. (Yes, I'm using the N.Y accent and grammar that annoys some of you so much.) Time to move on.

I guess some things never change, though. And some people never change. Perfect example: the KKK, and all their little modern day neo-nazi, skinhead groups, wanna-be 3rd Reichs. Hi there. Would you like to join us in the 21st century? I mean, seriously, get over yourselves with your God complex. And speaking of that, the villain in the book, "Hilly" is pretty much the epitome of evil, in all of the above in this paragraph. Except she's wrapped up in a pretty, little debutante, society girl package with her bridge club games, and benefit parties as fundraisers for the "Starving Children of Africa" which everyone knows she doesn't really give a shit about.

And back then, even MORE so than now, the politics were real crooked, and the politicians were OPENLY racist. Mayors, and Governors saying we were better off segregated. "Equal, but separate" they said. What a crock o' shit.

Now moving on to my favorite character in the book. "Minny". I LOVE Minny. I mean, I absolutely ADORE her, and I want her to be my new BFF. Now she's the one in the book that don't take no shit from NOBODY. It's also why she always gets into some kind of trouble. Especially, in that town, at that time, her mouth is a danger to herself, and those around her. You gotta admire her spirit though, and her courage, especially when she ends up doing something in particular to protect not necessarily herself, but those she loves.

That brings me to the other heroine in the story, "Aibileen", the one who ends up bringing all the other maids, including Minny, to Skeeter that she needs to write her book. She's not exactly the rabble rouser like Minny but is very strong woman, with also a great spirit, who is quietly courageous. Aibie has a long time habit of making "prayer lists" in helping people in her circle by including them in her nightly prayers which she writes down, instead of just memorizing. Myself, not being necessarily religious, but spiritual, found this to be a great idea, which I will start implementing in my own life. Thank you Aibie.

And finally, getting back to our author, Ms. Stockett has graciously included a "reading guide" with questions in the back of the book made for book clubs. I always find those entertaining. At my book club, "Book Slut Club", we always like to read out loud, and kind of make fun of those reading guides. I don't have anything against them. They are good to have. However, I believe that after reading a book like this, if you don't have a clue what to talk about, you probably shouldn't be reading it in the first place.

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