Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
Genres: Historical Fiction
Summary: Told through the eyes of three women in 1963 Civil Rights embroiled Mississippi, one an affluent Caucasian woman and two African-Americans who were employed as maids in Caucasian households. This book recounts the tale of how Skeeter, a recent college graduate, writes a ground-breaking book telling the stories of twelve women employed as maids from upper and middle-class Caucasian households. The conflict inherent between the two races is detailed throughout the book and culminates with the publication of Skeeter's novel entitled "Help".
Lucinda's Thoughts: I picked this book up because of all the buzz about it due to the movie's (which was based on the book) popularity. I quickly became enthralled by the tale of Abileen, Minny and Skeeter. Having been a history major in college I was aware of some of the conflict that took place in the South during the early 1960s, but this book made these things more human to me. Seeing the prejudice, assumption of inferiority, and treatment that the African -American citizens of this time received was truly eye-opening. The lives of these women present such a contrast to those of today's women, a truly enlightening experience.
The only reason that this book did not receive a 5 was that some of the chapters were written in dialect and thus rendered the text a little less accessible for all readers. On the whole, this was an excellent read. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, or just a well-written story about three strong, but different women and the historical times in which they lived.
* * *
Tracy's Rating: 5/5 Stars
Tracy's Thoughts: Okay, it's downright scary how parallel our reading experiences with this book were. I was only a history minor in college, but I too was struck by how the human element portrayed in The Help allowed me to better understand the upheaval of the civil rights era. And you make a good point about the use of dialect. I got off to a really slow start because I found the dialect in Aibileen and Minnie's narratives a bit distracting. I actually almost gave up altogether. Eventually, though, I adjusted and felt like it only added to the tone and realism of the novel. (Though I recently encountered this blog post pointing out how very unrealistic much of the dialect is...)
Anyway, here's my initial review from the Summer 2009 BCPL Recommended Reading List:
The Help is a book that manages to both entertain and feel incredibly important at the same time. Pitch-perfect in its portrayal of 1960s Jackson, Mississippi and the women who live there, it follows three women—two black maids and a white “society lady” fresh out of college—who start their own quiet movement even as the civil rights movement explodes around them. It focuses on the lives of everyday people of different backgrounds who are just trying to live their lives. And yet this book made the era of the Civil Rights Movement real for me in a way that no other book, movie, or college lecture ever has. But never fear: this isn’t in any way an overwhelming or heavy-handed book. Stockett uses a Southern-laced dark humor reminiscent of Fannie Flagg that serves perfectly to balance the serious subject matter. The approachability is additionally augmented by the fully realized characterizations. There are no cookie-cutter characters in Stockett’s world; you love them or you hate them, but even the characters that you most loathe have redeeming facets. In short, I loved this book—and admired it as well. There is already speculation that The Help is destined to become a classic. I wouldn’t be surprised.