[Book Review] The Help – Kathryn Stockett
This book takes the well-known American problem of racial segregation and puts an interesting spin on it by offering a new perspective.
Focusing on the relationship between the white housewives and their black maids in the early 1960s, The Help has three main heroines who take turns narrating the story: Aibileen (a black maid who has raised many white children while working for their families), Minny (a strong and sassy black maid known for talking back to her employers), and Skeeter (a young, white woman who yearns for the return of Constantine, the beloved black maid who had raised her). The three of them become connected when Skeeter decides to write a novel that reveals the injustice and ill-treatment the help has to endure under the employment of white women who focus more on socializing than raising their own children. This is a very brief and general synopsis, but too much goes on in the story to really get through, especially without revealing spoilers.
This point starts the list of cons that I found while reading this novel. While there are many things going on in the novel (maybe too many), everything happens in a very slow manner. Basically, I felt like the book could have been paced at a faster speed. This may have even helped arouse stronger emotions from me because, frankly, I did not feel anything particularly strong while reading this book. I felt disgust at the main antagonist, Hilly, and her close friend, Elizabeth. I felt horror at the abuse the black people had to endure during the time. However, I felt like this book had to evoke stronger reactions. I felt like I had to be weeping at certain parts and wanting to curse and stomp my feet at others.
However, this might not necessarily be a bad thing. Not everything about serious social injustices has to be an emotional rollercoaster. I think this element gave the novel a more relatable touch, enabling me to better understand how trapped the maids felt in their roles. They were not being physically or even verbally abused by their employers, but they were being patronized and constantly under suspicious supervision (in case they steal some silverware or whatnot). The maids’ fears were that they would do something wrong, be subsequently fired, and then blacklisted so that they are unable to find work anywhere else. Only one thing would come out of that: destitution. Not to mention, there was always that chance they might run into trouble with an angry, violent white man. So, while I wish I had been more emotionally tossed back and forth between the pages, I think the more subtle approach worked well for the book.
Another thing that had its ups and downs was the change in narration after a couple of chapters. There is no specific order. It would be Aibileen then Minny then Skeeter then it could be Minny again, giving the book a sort of fun unpredictability. However, the thing that was a bit frustrating about this was that I was not always getting the desired perspective. For example, something may happen to Skeeter, but I would get it from Aibileen’s point of view. Another frustrating thing: sometimes I wanted to know what happens after the chapter ends with a cliffhanger, but when I turned the page, I found someone else ready to take over at a totally different time and place. Kathryn Stockett wanted me to fidget in my seat. Fine. This is a rather interesting and effective technique since many different things are going on in each of the heroines’ lives and they have their own distinct story to tell.
Lastly, the ending … Not as conclusive as I wished. It did not wrap up the story completely. Still, it was a decent, realistic, and hopeful end.
Would I recommend this book? Yes. It was not a difficult read and it was well written. If you are interested in strong women taking control of their lives and standing up against the unfortunate circumstances of society, then go pick up a copy.
Lastly, this is probably somewhat bad of me to admit, but the whole time I was reading it, I just kept wanting to watch the movie. How would Emma Stone portray the character of Skeeter? How would this scene be directed? I still have not been able to grab a hold of a copy, but soon …