Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Help by Kathryn Stockett (audio)

Book Description:
Be prepared to meet three unforgettable women:

Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.

Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.

Minny, Aibileen's best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody's business, but she can't mind her tongue, so she's lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.

Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.

In pitch-perfect voices, Kathryn Stockett creates three extraordinary women whose determination to start a movement of their own forever changes a town, and the way women -- mothers, daughters, caregivers, friends - view one another. A deeply moving novel filled with poignancy, humor, and hope, The Help is a timeless and universal story about the lines we abide by, and the ones we don't.

I've put off writing this review because I just didn't think I could do this book justice. It was great. It was wonderful, I loved it. It is memorable and inspirational. I still sound disjointed, I don't know how to write about it, except to tell everyone to go out and get it and read it! I listened to it on audio and I'm so glad I did! With three different sensational narrators for Minny, Skeeter and Aibileen I was sucked into the world of Jackson, Mississippi of 1963. I wholeheartedly recommend listening to this book on audio. It was truly a pleasure, the excellent writing and vivid portrayal of the characters is enhanced by the superb readers. I felt I knew them, like I was right there with them. I was there sitting in those kitchens with these wonderful characters. I didn't want it to end.

The world was a different place back in the early 60's, segregation and the word "colored" were household words. I'm old enough to remember when African Americans were referred to as "colored" and having a colored maid was the norm where I grew up, whether she cooked, cleaned, cared for the children - or all three. I grew up in New Jersey and I'd like to think the rules were different with us than how they were down South, but this book brought back plenty of memories for me and our maids - whom I adored and loved. It made me wonder - was it like that in NJ too? I hate to think it could be, I cringe at the thought in disbelief. Or was it just a Southern thing?

The Help has three sections and point of views, Aibileen, Minny and Skeeter. Minny and Aibileen's stories reflect what it's like for them to work for white ladies in Jackson, Mississippi. Aibileen has been around, she's worked for plenty of people over the years and has seen a lot. She's wise beyond her years and is the soul of the book. Minny has a temper and it's gotten her into trouble, but she's the best cook in Jackson, yet she crossed one powerful Junior Leaguer who made it nearly impossible for her to get another job. All it takes is one rumor and no nice white lady will hire you. Minny has a husband who beats her and five children and another on the way. She can't afford to lose another job.

Then, there's Skeeter Phelan, just out of college. Skeeter doesn't fit in anymore with the rest of her hometown friends like Hilly and Elizabeth. Skeeter is single and not really interested in getting married right away - she wants to be a writer. Once she's back home she finds out that the beloved housekeeper that raised her has quit without even saying good-bye. Skeeter knows this can't be true and she hasn't gotten the whole story. She's sympathetic to "the help" in town, she doesn't like what she sees and the way they are treated. After talking once to Aibileen, she takes on the idea to write about what it's like for them to work for white ladies and raise their children - the good and the bad, but above all - the truth. Skeeter sacrifices a lot in her life to write this book, but it's worth it to her and it frees her from many of the social constrictions her life in Jackson is rife with.

My favorite character's story was Minny's. Minny gets a dream job working for Celia, a rich, young, white lady who lives out in a big mansion in the country. Celia is a country girl - real country. She doesn't have the same kind of prejudices about hiring help as the Junior Leaguers in town. In fact, the Junior Leaguers won't even give her the time of day, no matter how rich she is! She's married well beyond her hometown of Sugar Ditch - the lowest of the low. She wants to keep Minny a secret from her husband, she doesn't want him to think she can't clean and cook all on her own. I really liked Celia and felt sorry for her. I loved the storyline between Minny and Celia. Minny kept saying how she hated white women, but she had a soft spot for Celia - she just wouldn't admit it to anyone.

Aibileen is Skeeter's partner in writing the book. Slowly but surely she enlists the help of other maids to contribute their stories. Aibileen writes her own story herself and has a flair with it. She has the makings of a writer too! She and Skeeter bond and become close with their clandestine project. Eventually Minny joins in, albeit reluctantly, she just can't resist, she knows how important it is. It's a huge risk for them all and I was on the edge of my seat for much of the book worrying about them! The Civil Rights movement was ramping up, Martin Luther King's march on Washington was in the news and the death of Medgar Evers in Jackson punctuates the danger all three women are placing themselves in. For Minny, Aibileen and Skeeter the consequences could be severe, even lethal.

I'm leaving a lot out and skipping tons, the bitchy Junior Leaguers like Hilly and Elizabeth and their hypocritical attitudes. I was dying to see what would happen with Hilly and how she would enact her revenge once the book came out. I don't want to give anything away, there are too many elements in it that are great. I couldn't stop listening to the audio, I had to find out what would happen to everyone. These characters all have become so familiar, many are dear to me, I hope they will be for you too.

This is hands down the best book I've read this year, I wholeheartedly recommend it, it is a must read for everyone, in my opinion, but, especially women. It will make you stop and think and stop and think all over again. It's ending gives you hope in a quiet, yet powerful way. An uplifting and very, very satisfying read.



Aarti said...

I really enjoyed this book, particularly the relationship between Minny and Celia. It was a really bizarre but strong friendship. I didn't really care for Skeeter, though. She seemed false for me, only realizing that prejudice existed after college and then only reaching an epiphany at the END of the book, after writing the book.

Julie at Outlandish Dreaming said...

Aarti - Skeeter was my least favorite too, it was only because she lost Constantine that she started to notice the other help around town, but then she realized how hypocritial everything was. Granted, she grew up in that environment and it's not going change overnight for her. I did feel sorry for her that she lost her boyfriend over their differences, but I do like that fact he kept her secret, though. Wasn't Hilly a bitch?!

Alaine - Queen of Happy Endings said...

Julie, fantastic review, I'll be listening to this one very soon!

Julie at Outlandish Dreaming said...

Alaine - thank you, in most cases, reading the book in print is better, but in this case, I think the audio is better - I hope you enjoy it as much a I did!

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