THE HELP by Kathryn Stockett

The-help So I finally read The Help, by Kathryn Stockett. I may be the last person in America to read this book. And while reviewing it feels akin to reviewing something as universally beloved as say, spring, I will take a stab at it.

If you've been living under a rock, The Help is about the relationship between black domestics and white families in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 60s. There are three rotating narrators: Aibileen, an older, gentle black woman who has been working for white families for years; Minny, a younger black woman and Aibileen's best friend, who has lost many maid jobs due to her hot temper and sharp tongue; and Skeeter, a young white woman awakening to the civil rights movement and her hometown's racist legacy.

In many ways, The Help is a very compelling book. I found its theme – the complicated ways in which white and black women related to each other during that particular period of history – to be painful, fascinating, and thought-provoking. I love that Stockett took this on, and I love that this book has become a bestseller. It's a page-turner, full of suspense and a few surprises.

My complaint about The Help is… it felt a little contrived at times. Some of the plot twists were just a little too convenient and fit a bit too neatly into the plot. I feel like Stockett had the screenplay for the inevitable movie adaptation in mind while she was writing. As a result, it felt at times like I was reading a script, rather than a piece of historical fiction. The subject matter was compelling enough that Stockett didn't need to rely on gimmicks – a little understatement would have gone a long way.

So my feeling about this book is – it's not perfect, but it is a great read, and a worthwhile topic, and mostly deserving of the heaps of praise it has gotten.

18 Comments

  • March 19, 2010 - 12:05 am | Permalink

    I reviewed The Help this week too. I noticed that the pace faltered towards the end. Perhaps that was me noticing what you noticed. Like you said though, it was very compelling.

  • March 19, 2010 - 8:31 am | Permalink

    You’re not the last person in the world to read this book – I am. I’m dying to read it too.

  • Heidi
    March 19, 2010 - 8:56 am | Permalink

    Yep. I haven’t read it, either. It’s been so hyped I’ve been avoiding it. I feared it might be overly contrived and I’m still a bit wary. Is it just too ‘feel good?’

  • March 19, 2010 - 9:11 am | Permalink

    I really do think I’m the last person to read this book, and I must confess, I was almost afraid to because everyone (those I normally agree and disagree with) love it so much. It couldn’t possibly live up to the hype, right? Thank you for your honesty and helping to lower my expectations to a threshold so I might actually read the book soon.

  • March 19, 2010 - 9:26 am | Permalink

    I still haven’t read this book yet, but will do so next month for my book club. I can’t wait to read it!

  • March 19, 2010 - 9:33 am | Permalink

    Heidi – no, it’s not a feel good book, so you don’t need to worry about that. There’s a lot of pain in it. My issue with it really had to do with some plot developments that I thought were a bit contrived.
    Nomadreader – you’re welcome! I had the same problem – so much hype. Am glad, though, that I read it.

  • March 19, 2010 - 10:49 am | Permalink

    I read this one awhile back and really enjoyed it. I have to say, I’m glad some criticisms are coming out with later reviews – as much as I loved it, it would be weird for there not to be a single criticism of a book!

  • March 19, 2010 - 12:10 pm | Permalink

    I’m with you on the gimmicks. Also I felt like Stockett built up good tension then when bad things happened, they were so underplayed. But overall, so worth reading.

  • Kiki
    March 19, 2010 - 1:44 pm | Permalink

    Certainly not a perfect novel, I was fortunate enough to have an advanced reader copy (I read it during spring break last year–a year ago this week, and my kids were really annoyed because I wouldn’t put it down!)before the novel was actually released, and I really enjoyed it. For a first novel, Stockett really took on a heavy subject, and her writing was great. Sure, she may have faltered towards the end of the novel a bit, but I hate when heavy hype for a book that is actually up to the hype ruins the novel for people! This book is so worth it, I admire Stockett for taking on such a serious and dicey topic! I’ve encouraged everyone I know that reads seriously to read it.
    This is no Dan Brown novel!

  • Sarah
    March 19, 2010 - 3:57 pm | Permalink

    Gayle — I loved “The Help” but think your criticisms are quite valid. You put into words some of my feelings about the book that I couldn’t articulate. Very well put.

  • March 19, 2010 - 4:13 pm | Permalink

    Gayle, you aren’t the last person to read it because I still haven’t read The Help yet! I own a copy and plan to read it soon, though!

  • March 19, 2010 - 6:31 pm | Permalink

    I haven’t read it yet either. It’s on my list. I wish I’d read it right when it first came out. Now it”s gotten so much hype I’m not all fired up to read it.

  • March 19, 2010 - 6:58 pm | Permalink

    I have not read it yet either. I do have it though and am anxiously awaiting the chance to read it.

  • March 23, 2010 - 12:39 pm | Permalink

    Well, I’m in good company with those who have not yet read this book. It’s not out in paperback yet, is it? I’m kinda holding it “in reserve” for just the right time. Thanks for pointing out what bugged you about the book as well as what you liked.

  • March 23, 2010 - 4:34 pm | Permalink

    My local book club is discussing this book tonight. I read it almost a year ago so I’m hoping to remember most of the stories/plot.
    Glad you enjoyed it – I also was intrigued with the black/white relationships, it’s unfortunate this time existed in our lives.

  • UnoIAMRIGHT
    August 10, 2011 - 7:57 pm | Permalink

    The book was awesome. Very UNLIKELY that a white woman wrote it though. It is evident that it was edited by a white woman. Brer Rabbit and Uncle Ramus ALL OVER AGAIN. That’s like me, a first generation African American writing a book in the first person about growing up Sioux at the turn of last century detailing personal accounts that only the Sioux would know. Think about it. White women love it because it makes them feel better. Silly Americans!

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