This book. I die. It was so good.
I was tempted to leave my review at that because I’m so very late to this party, but, maybe you’re late too and haven’t read it yet, so I’ll do a little review anyway.
Let me start by saying, that I held off on reading this book for as long as possible. I remember when it came out, and I remember thinking that a story about the incredibly difficult lives of black women in the south in the 1960s written by a white women sounded horrible if not downright offensive to me. I remember everyone going gaga over it and seeing it pop up on every reading based site for a long time. Then, the movie came out, and people really lost it. That sort of sealed this book’s fate in my mind. In my experience, I tend not to like a lot of the books that get crazy popular. I’ll read a book if I know it’s going to be made into a movie because I like being in the loop, but I don’t usually like them (with the huge, and obvious exception of The Hunger Games). I hated the Time Traveler’s Wife, and people went nuts for that too. So, I publicly declared (to Chris and the cat) that I would not read this book. Period. End of story.
Then, we went to South Carolina, and I got to talking with my mama. Unlike mainstream culture, she and I tend to have very similar tastes, so when she told me that I HAD TO SEE THE HELP (she didn’t really yell, she’s not like that) I was kind of surprised. She didn’t read the book, but she said she had loved the movie and I would too. Finding myself in the airport on the way home, bookless and with her order in my head, I bit the bullet and bought the damn book.
I did not like the first chapter. The way Aibileen’s parts were written made me very uncomfortable. I thought it was unfair of the author to dumb down the inner monologue of the black characters when the same was not done for the white characters. I sort of kicked myself for buying the book, but I liked the story right off the bat, so I read on.
After my 2 hour flight, I was totally hooked. Once I relaxed and gave the book a chance, the tone and writing style faded into the back of my mind and felt natural. I realized that Stockett writes with a profound respect for both her white and black narrators, and the tone came off as less jarring and more endearing. I couldn’t put this book down.
I loved Aibileen and Minny and Skeeter. I found myself rooting (sometimes aloud) for them throughout the whole book. I even loved the super-villain Hilly. She was surely evil without crossing into unbelievable territory. I loved that nothing really wild happens in the book. There is an undertone that leaves you fearing for the worst throughout the whole book, but there are no huge tragedies, just a series of smaller, still very powerful ones.
For example, I kept worrying that there would be a scene where one of the children died (it is about domestic caretakers), but I’m glad the book never strayed into that territory. The only descriptions of children’s deaths were set in the past by way of Aibileen’s son and some of the white babies that were cared for. The tragedies of Louvenia’s grandson’s blinding, Celia’s miscarriage, Yule May’s imprisonment, and Skeeter’s mother’s illness were all moving and powerful, but the reason they bonded me to the characters was because they weren’t so jarring as to be totally unrelatable.
I also like that there were no clear delineations of good and evil. Obviously, Skeeter and Aibleen were good souls and Hilly was quite awful, but there are many mixed characters too. Like, Minny, who can be brash and cold, but commits one of the most selfless acts of the book, or Lou Anne, who never does “the right thing” by speaking up against something she thinks is wrong, but still ends up doing a lot of good in her own way.
There were two parts of the book I could pick at (and I will because I’m picky like that), and they were the story about Constantine and Aibileen’s son. I didn’t think that the buildup for Constantine’s story was justified given what happened to her. Yes, it was horrible, but it wasn’t really as shocking or scandalous as we’d been promised. My issue with Aibileen’s son was in regards to his death. It plays very prominently in the beginning of the book, but then it feels like he’s almost forgotten. I wish that she had thought of him when the book was published. I think it would have tied things together more neatly.
I loved the ending. I wouldn’t change one thing about it. I hate when books leave you hanging (especially after you’ve been rooting for the characters for 300 pages), but I also hate when everything falls perfectly into place. I think Stockett did a great job of giving the readers closure while also allowing a few loose ends.
I’d recommend this book to anyone who likes good books. Yes, it centers mostly around racial issues, but it also tells a funny, heartfelt and inspiring story in the process. It’s about society and family and culture, the lines that divide us and the bonds that tie us together. It’s beautifully written and artfully told. It would not be a wasted read. I guarantee that.
And, obviously, The Help has been immediately added to my Netflix queue.