Friday, January 21, 2011

The Help

The Help
By Kathryn Stockett
Amy Einhorn Books/G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2009. 451 pgs/approx. 18 hours. Historical Fiction

In 1962 in Jackson, Mississippi, society girl Skeeter, who is an aspiring writer, finds that she's uncomfortable with the way white women treat their black maids. As she decides to write about things from the perspective of the help, she gets Aibileen and Minny, two of the black maids, to tell stories about their lives and their experience working for white families. Although this puts them all at great risk if anyone ever finds out, as they work together, they also realize how important it is for them to take that risk.

This was one of the most-talked about books of 2009...and I just finally got around to listening to it on CD. (In my defense, it's been constantly checked out at the library.) I really enjoyed it; the story really makes you think about race relations and how people can work together to change things. The characters are great, the story is moving, sad, funny, and inspiring, the setting is well-developed, and the language is perfect! This is a book that could draw in just about any reader.

Looking at things from a multicultural aspect, I've done some internet searching and found that some African American readers think the book is offensive because of the dialect; others have said the dialect was accurate and that the story is good because it dispells the Mammy image. One complaint was that only the African American characters speak in dialect. I haven't seen the book so I don't know about the way it's written, but I will say that listening to it on CD, I did think the white women spoke in a southern dialect, too. I definitely thought the portrayal of African American women invited readers to look beyond this "Mammy" image of African American women and see that they're aren't jolly, happy, love-to-serve-their-white-families type women. Instead, we see a diversity of African American women; we see women who are strong and sassy and smart. We see women who are sweet and those who have a bit of a temper. We see PEOPLE, not stereotypes. For me, that's the mark of a good book--when the characters are real, rather than flat, stock, stereotypical characters.

Listening to it on CD was both good and bad--I loved the narrators' voices, however, it's SO long, and I could have read it so much faster than I listened to it. But for listeners who have the patience to make it through all 18 hours, it really is a treat to listen to the narrators.

Five stars.

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