Saturday, February 13, 2010

Book 10: The Help

There's been a quiet buzz about The Help. I've looked at it a time or two in the bookstore, heard it mentioned by a few people. It pulled me, much like Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood did. In other words, I'd think about it, then put it down. And, in the mean time, I read nine other books.
Then, about a week ago, my friend Kenneth told me I must add this book to my list to read. My friend Brian knows the author, Krathryn Stockett, and also recommended the book. My friend Marie said she had heard so much about it. So, when the time came earlier this week to try out my new Kindle for iPhone app, I chose The Help. And got very little done for the rest of the week, because I could not stop reading it.
Only a few chapters in, I emailed a handful of my bibliophile friends and told them to go out, that minute, and get this book. It was that engrossing.
The Help, from the Publisher's Weekly summary at, "set during the nascent civil rights movement in Jackson, Miss., where black women were trusted to raise white children but not to polish the household silver. Eugenia Skeeter Phelan is just home from college in 1962, and, anxious to become a writer, is advised to hone her chops by writing about what disturbs you. The budding social activist begins to collect the stories of the black women on whom the country club sets relies and mistrusts enlisting the help of Aibileen, a maid who's raised 17 children, and Aibileen's best friend Minny, who's found herself unemployed more than a few times after mouthing off to her white employers. The book Skeeter puts together based on their stories is scathing and shocking, bringing pride and hope to the black community, while giving Skeeter the courage to break down her personal boundaries and pursue her dreams. "
That summarizes the plot well, but here's more around what hooked me. I was born a full decade after this story was set, but I've lived all my life in the South. I felt like I know this women on some level, because I know women like them. That familiarity immediately drew me in. I thought a lot about Skeeter Phelan. Described in the book as not pretty in any conventional sense, Skeeter is going through the motions of the life she is supposed to live, Junior League meetings, bridge games, and searching for a husband. Unmarried at 23? Well, your highest quest in life should be getting that MRS, and if your looks can't get you there, perhaps a trust fund from Daddy's plantation can help. Except that Skeeter went to college for something more than her MRS. She got an education, and she wants to write. She begins noticing the way her friends treat, talk to, and talk around their black maids. As mentioned in the summary, she begins working with two of the maids to collect their stories into a book.
Collecting these stories was a dangerous undertaking on many levels. For the maids, it was a threat to their livelihoods. If they were found out, at best it would mean that they would lose any chance of making a living, providing for their families, in Jackson. At worse, it could mean they lose their life. For Skeeter, standing up against the injustice would virtually assure her ostracization from the community she called home. These women all knew the consequences of their actions, yet they chose to go forward anyway. That courage is what got to me. It wasn't going to be easy, but it was the right thing to do. And it changed lives.
This book made me want to be a better person. And it made me think about what might be going on in this world that I need to stand up for, because it is the right thing to do, opinions of friends and family be damned. I was blessed with two wonderful Political Science professors in college who first made me think about what it is that would make me risk everything. My friend Lara and I have discussed, more than once, how easy it is looking back to see the injustice of say, women not having the right to vote. But had we lived in that era, would we have really had the courage to march for suffrage? Same thing here. I don't deny that racism still exists, but would I have had the courage to fight for civil rights? And what is that issue now? I think I know. And I think I know what I have to do about it. And if I talk about it with the wrong people, I'm certainly going to take a lot of heat for it. But I feel like it is the right thing to do. And I want to be able to look back on my life one day and say I did something that mattered. The power of a book to evoke something like this, even if it is a work of fiction, is something I adore. This book will likely be one I regard in the same way as I do To Kill A Mockingbird.
Many thanks to my friend Kenneth, who endured innumerable text messages and phone calls from me as I read this book- I was bursting to talk about it with someone!


  1. I was just pointed to your blog by a friend and I read this post because I also loved The Help. So what do you think is that issue now? I had the same reaction to the book. I think I know what that issue is now, but I don't know what I have to do about it. What came to mind for me was the issue of immigration and the demonization of illegal (and legal, for that matter) immigrants. Just curious to hear your thoughts!

  2. Bitsy- thank you for reading, and commenting. Immigration was one of the issues I thought about as I read the book. And you are spot on with it being demoralizing to immigrants here legally or not. I think there are some other issues it could be as well, although immigration seems to be the most timely to me right now.

  3. Thanks for your response. I am really enjoying your blog. I came looking for good suggestions for my next read (the last 2 books I read were sort of disappointing) and now I can't decide!