Great books give you a feeling that you miss all day, until you finally get to crawl back inside those pages again.
― Kathryn Stockett
A few weeks ago I was feeling a bit tired of all the new books I was reading, so I decided I would re-read an old favourite to give myself a break. The Help was every bit as wonderful as I remembered it and I became so enthused by it that I wanted to write a review of it – but who are we kidding? I don’t have anything critical to say about this book. So instead: a list of the things that make this books such a treasure.
The Help tells the story of three brave women coming together under extraordinary circumstances. Abileen is a black maid raising her seventeenth white child while struggling with the death of her own son. Her friend Minny is the best cook and sassiest woman in the state. She has just been fired and with five children and a good-for-nothing husband she needs to find a new job ASAP. Skeeter is a white woman who wants to be a writer, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Together they set out to write a book about what it’s really like to be a black housemaid working for a white family.
What I loved
This book is about women. All the women in this book, including Skeeter’s mother, are very well-rounded characters, awesome or horrible in their own way, and each with comprehensible motivations.
One of its central themes is the characters’ relationships with their mothers. The clearest example of this is Skeeter’s struggle to satisfy her mother’s wishes while also staying true to her own dreams. However, the book also shows how the little white girls Abileen takes care of are taught racism by their parents and predicts the damage Mrs Leefolt does to her daughter May Mobley by showing so little interest in her. Interestingly, there are many things you can say about Hilly but she does love and care for her children.
Sorry is the fool who ever underestimates my mother.
Skeeter’s romance feels very realistic and it is not her most important relationship. It has a bumpy start, requires a second chance, and is hard work and enjoyable at the same time. Ultimately, it feels like the romance part of the novel is more about Skeeter learning about herself and her relationship with her mother than about Skeeter and Stuart, which I very much appreciate.
The story feels balanced. Although it has every opportunity to be, this book doesn’t just display a sequence of horrible events, it also shows the good, the love. Which doesn’t mean the bad things, such as a young black man who is beaten up for using the ‘wrong’ bathroom, are glossed over. Furthermore, I found it very compelling how the book not only shows the effect this has on him and his grandmother, but also how hearing about it affects the rest of the community.
The book is is very emotionally powerful, aided, of course, by its subject matter. Some of the scenes broke my heart, such as when Mae Mobley tells Abileen that she is her real mommy, and overall it leaves you filled with a strong emotion of injustice and powerlessness.
It feels cool, like water washing over my sticky-hot body. Cooling a heat that’s been burning me up all my life.
Truth, I say inside my head again, just for that feeling.
Among all of this injustice, the book has a few things to teach about bravery. These three amazing women demonstrate that even though the consequences may be dreadful, sometimes you have to suck in all of your fear and do the good thing anyway.
The writing is excellent. I’m probably starting to sound like a broken record here, but good prose is SO IMPORTANT. It allows us to see the aestheticism of storytelling, the beauty of eloquence and the importance of clear and original writing. It allows us to enjoy novels as works of art.
The different narrators are used very effectively: The Help begins and ends with Aibileen, showing that the book really is about her, not about the white woman writing stories about her. At the end of the novel, when they’re waiting for something crucial to happen the perspective jumps quickly back and forth between Aibileen and Minny, showing their agitation & impatient waiting.
And finally, it teaches the importance of self-worth and kindness. As Abileen would say
You is kind. You is smart. You is important.
Have you read this book? What did you think of it? Or if not, did I persuade you to try it? 🙂