Thursday, August 19, 2010

Book Review- The Help

Does this cover on the left of this post look familiar to you? I'm sure your thinking that you've definitely seen it before. There is always that same set of books that you always see displayed in every book store you go to. Right there when you walk in, the best of the best sellers list. This is one of them. I usually don't read books on the best sellers list but occasionally, when I see one over and over again, I give in and read it. The last book I did this to was The Kite Runner and I didn't regret it. At Borders one day, when I saw this cover staring in my face again (with no idea what the novel was about) I logged into my Amazon account from my Droid and typed in the title, The Help. WOW Nearly a perfect five star average with almost 2,500 reviews!? (Though Amazon is not always reliable- when I first read Twilight 2007, it also had a near perfect score with 1000 some reviews). Okay now I had to read this book. I purchased The Help with still no idea what it was about and started reading it immediately that day. I only knew that it was centered around women because the tagline for the novel read "Three ordinary women are about to take one huge step." Well I love novels that center around women so I was excited about that. When I started the novel, I soon found out that it was centered in a small town in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960's about black maids working for white families. Nothing like anything I've ever read before so I thought it would be interesting to read.

The book is separated between the POVs of three different women: Skeeter, Minny, and Aibileen. Skeeter is a young twenty-some year old wealthy white girl who recently graduate from Ole Miss and comes home to find her family maid, Constantine, no longer working for them. Skeeter's old-school mother refuses to tell Skeeter what happened and Skeeter begins to ask her friend Elizabeth Leefolt's maid, Aibileen, if she knows of Constantine whereabouts. Aibileen is a sweet, fifty-some year old black woman who has been working as a maid for white families all her life. Aibileen unlike many other maids, will frequently switch families once the children in the family reach a certain age. Aibileen lost her son in a tragic accident that left her emotionally damaged. She quits working for a family when their children get older because she can't stand to see the children she raised and fell in love with begin to despise her when they learn racism from society. Aibileen is a very shy and quiet woman and keeps to herself most of the time. The only time she can express herself is when she is writing. When Skeeter begins questioning her about Constantine, Aibileen shies away.

Aibileen is good friends with Minny, a sassy, big mouthed black woman who has an abusive husband and several children. Skeeter and Elizabeth are both also friends with a white woman named Hilly- all three went to school together and were in the same sorority. Hilly is what we would call the 'Queen Bee' of their group. She feeds off of attention from others and loves telling people what to do and believe. She leads around her group of followers, acting superior and more enlightened than all the other women in the town. When she is introduced in the novel, she is trying to begin a health initiative where all households have to have a separate bathroom for their help because "they carry different disease" than white people so installing one will "keep your children and family safe." Hilly's mother is the employer of Minny and after much fuss from Hilly, Hilly's mother decides/is forced to let Minny go. Minny not entertained by this gets revenge on Hilly by doing a "terrible, awful thing." So what does Hilly do? Anything a two-faced bitch would do. Spread rumors, making it impossible for Minny to get another job. Minny, desperate for a job, finds one with a busty young blonde named Cecilia Foote living with a husband who happens to be the ex-fiance of Hilly. Miss Cecilia is not like the other women in the town. Instead of being the town's typical uptight, husband loving, snooty, 'high class' southern woman, she's downright 'southern trash.' She's not associate with Queen Bee Hilly's crowd (though she desperately wants to be) and doesn't understand the lines and rules put up by society.

Skeeter, unlike the other girls in her crowd, doesn't have a boyfriend or husband. She doesn't want to spend her days watching football all the time with a boyfriend and would rather go to New York City to become a journalist. Skeeter is given an opportunity to write a book by a publisher in New York so she begins to put together a compilation of stories about the lives of black maids in the town. Fearful for their lives, no maids come up Skeeter to share their stories except Aibileen and soon afterwards, Minny. Things gradually begin to get sour between Skeeter and Hilly. Like all girl fighting, everything is done behind each other's back. To be perfectly honest, if I were to compare this novel to anything I've ever read or watched before, I'd say Mean Girls. Hilly is like your Regina George, dominating everyone in the town, getting them to follower her around like a love-sick puppy. Elizabeth and many of the other girls in town are like Regina's 'plastic' minions who do whatever she says even if they themselves don't have a strong opinion about it. Skeeter is like Cady's character; she sees through all the bullshit and is secret friends with the folks they're taboo to be associated with. And then, like in the Mean Girls movie, there is plenty of secret back stabbing fighting that goes on between two frenemies. Like Aibileen says at one point in the book, women aren't like men when they get mad; they're not just going to punch you in the face and then forget about it, they will secretly eat you from the ground up and never stop until your dead.

Unlike Mean Girls, however, there isn't much humor in this book. There is good amount of violence towards many of the black characters in the novel. On top of that, there are many heart aching moments in novel as well, especially when all the maids in the community come up to Skeeter and share their stories about working for white families. Also, reading about Aibileen and Constantine and how much they suffered in their roles as a mother will bring a tear to anyone's eye. You as a reader are constantly worrying about that psycho bitch Hilly discovering Skeeter's secret book project. If she ever did, she would use her influence on the town to cause devastation and death among these families in the black community. Despite all the stressful moments in the book, there is a great amount of touching moments as well. Seeing these women come together knowing the risk of what they were doing and watching Aibileen teach Mae Mobley (Elizabeth's daughter) skin color does not mean anything, hinting that the next generation of children will grow up knowing the truth, and Martin Luther King's dream will be realized. I can't comment on how historically accurate it was because I don't know. As I understand it, the book has received some criticism on the portrayal of black women in Mississippi during the 60's. Lastly, the book is not a dull read at the least. You are constantly engaged and wondering what is going to happen next. I'll admit it was pretty hard for me to put down this book and I was pretty sad when it ended. So in conclusion, even though this isn't the type of book I typically read, I still loved it. It made me think about the extraordinary things normal people are capable of. On a side note, there is currently a film adaption in production, directed by Tate Taylor and starring Emma Stone, Bryce Dallas Howard, Viola Davis, and Octavia Spencer.

Recommended- Final Score 8.5/10

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