Genre: Historical Fiction
Themes: Empowering Women, Discrimination, Racism, Societal Issues, Personal Growth
Rating 5 stars
The Help is told from the point of view of three women: Aibileen- a kind, intelligent maid who works for a young family, Minny- a witty maid who is famous for her cooking, but infamous for her brazen attitude, and there’s Eugenia, also known as Skeeter- a determined college graduate who aspires to make it as a writer. Keen to write about something that will impress a big time editor in New York, Skeeter decides that she’d like to write a book which portrays the experiences of black maids living in her hometown… The Help is a powerful and moving story full of strong, brave characters who will teach you that words and a little bit of courage have the power to change the lives of many.
The Help centres around the racial segregation of black and white people living in Jackson, Mississipi during the 1960s. Thanks to the narratives of our main characters, readers learn specifically about the experience of black women working as maids in white households. Some experiences are universal, like not being allowed into a white store unless you’re wearing your maid’s uniform. Some experiences are more to do with having a blatantly racist employer, like having to use a separate bathroom to prevent “cross contamination.” Either way, it’s clear that Jackson is a town that’s stuck in its oppressive ways, and things need to start changing. What better way to advocate for change than by educating, and giving a voice to those who are being oppressed?
“I’m pretty sure I can say that no one in my family ever asked Demetrie what it felt like to be black in Mississippi, working for our white family. It never occurred to us to ask. It was everyday life. It wasn’t something people felt compelled to examine.
I have wished, for many years, that I’d been old enough and thoughtful enough to ask Demetrie that question. She died when I was sixteen. I’ve spent years upon years imagining what her answer would be. And that is why I wrote this book.”
– Kathryn Stockett
At the end of the book, just after the acknowledgements, there’s an author’s note entitled Too Little, Too Late where Kathryn Stockett talks about growing up in Jackson. After reading this, it confirmed for me that she really was the well informed, honest, and fair individual that could only be behind a book like The Help. I really enjoyed reading about her relationship with Demetrie (who worked as her family’s maid) as well as learning about her experience of writing a book like The Help and the challenges that came with it, such as being a white person writing in the voice of a black person. What she wrote was very insightful and nothing was unnecessarily profound or sugar coated in this author’s note- everything Stockett wrote was just real and it made me respect her even more than I already did.
And to be honest, this aspect of herself really shines through in the way her characters were. Each and every character was so authentic. Take Skeeter for example, even though it was her idea to write a book about sharing the lives and experiences of 12 black maids in Jackson, she wasn’t treated as a rescuer for the characters of colour in this book, and she wasn’t seen as superior to the other white characters either… Skeeter wasn’t perfect but she had enough of a conscience and open mind to want to help change things in her hometown. Skeeter was an ally and her journey as one led to her growing as an individual too. Growth is a big theme in this book and for me it’s what makes the story so empowering.
As well as the characters being authentic, I thought that their relationships with one another were really authentic as well, and I feel like a lot can be learned from each one.
One of my favourite relationships was the one Aibileen had with the daughter of the family she worked for. She was called Mae-Mobley and Aibileen poured so much of her love into looking after this little girl. Mae-Mobley was rejected by her mother because of her looks (she was a little chubby) and generally, she just didn’t like her daughter very much. She was very cold and critical towards Mae-Mobley and so she grew up believing that she was bad. Seeing how Aibileen treated Mae-Mobley really moved me because she took it upon herself to give her the love and attention she deserved. Not only that but when you think about how Aibileen literally stopped functioning because she was heartbroken from the grief of losing her own son, I personally thought that it was amazing that she has enough grace and love in her heart to teach Mae-Mobley that she is important and that she is loved.
“You is gentle, you is kind, you is smart.”
I know that this is a super popular quote from the book but for real, when Aibileen is saying this with such loving conviction to Mae-Mobley during one of the last few chapters of the book, it was really powerful. I’m a big believer in letting kids know that they matter and that they’re enough. So I loved this genuine relationship, and it really shows how kind-hearted and amazing Aibileen is.
And so I really admire Kathryn Stockett for taking such care with the characters and with the way she told this story. It was also very interesting to see in what ways the book mirrored her own life. It helps us as readers to understand the book on a deeper level, understand why it was written in the first place.
There’s so much more I wish I could say about this novel but I feel like my words will never come close to expressing how great this book is. I genuinely don’t know what’s not to love about this book. The tone is humorous yet serious and emotional, the characters literally come to life when you read about them, and it has such uplifting messages. The Help brings for me strong feelings of sentiment and comfort and hope.
And so if there’s one thing I’d like you to take away from this review, it’s that The Help is one of those ‘must read’ novels. There’s not one boring page and honestly, it has such a strong presence, meaning, it does a really good job of not only attracting you to the storyline but pulling you into the actual world itself. Once I picked up The Help, I wasn’t in my bedroom or on my daily commute anymore, I was living in between the pages of the book. That’s how powerful the story was to me. Coming to the end of the book was emotional for many reasons, my favourite reason being that I felt so proud of the main characters; they took huge risks, they grew as individuals, they made a difference in the world. This book is full of so much love and courage which triumphs over the hate and discrimination that they all face. These characters and their stories are so special to me, my heart was honestly so full when I finished this book. The Help is an inspiring and very moving read and I will always treasure it.