Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Help - Kathryn Stockett (Kindle)


I recently signed up for the Southern Reading Challenge, and because of overwhelmingly positive reviews from bloggers and Entertainment Weekly, I added this book to my list. Not only that, it was my first purchase on my Kindle. First-time author Kathryn Stockett has hit a serious home run here, guys. Watch out. I'm working up to a major love fest.

It is Jackson Mississippi in 1962, and we are knee-deep in segregation - separate bathrooms, separate hospitals, even separate libraries. Every middle and upper class family has a black maid. But we are on the brink of big changes. Martin Luther King Jr. is making a name for himself, and tensions are running high between blacks and whites.

At the center of the story are three women. Aibileen is a meek, middle aged, single black woman whose only son was killed in a tragic accident several years prior. She has spent her entire life raising the babies and polishing the silver of her white employers. She is God-fearing, and her prayer lists are famous for their effectiveness. Minny, Aibileen's best friend and also a maid, is a firecracker, whose sassy mouth tells it like it is and gets her in big trouble. She even served one particularly bitchy employer a cake with an extra special ingredient to get the last word in. At home, though, she suffers from domestic abuse. Then there is Skeeter, a white, spindly, homely girl from a wealthy family, who wants to become a writer. She also fiercely disagrees with the inequities between blacks and whites, but must keep it to herself or suffer at the hands of her bigoted family and friends.

In order to convince a New York publisher that she has what it takes, Skeeter decides to write a book. But not just any book...she wants to interview about a dozen of Jackson's black maids and tell their sides of the story. The kindnesses, the humiliations, everything. It's not an easy sell. If caught, these ladies could be fired and blacklisted, or even physically harmed. Skeeter and the maids meet at night, in secret, and names are changed in the stories. But the danger is still there. Aibileen and Minny take the challenge, and rally their fellow maids to do the right thing, regardless of the cost.

There are so many reasons why this story works. As any good plot should, there is a villain - the high society's mean girl that manipulates everyone and everything to her whim. I wanted to smash her face! Stockett brings the characters to life, particularly Aibileen and Minny, with voices so real I can hear them in my head. I fell in love with these two ladies. They are warm, spiritual, flawed, courageous, and full of life. You feel tension in your stomach from the risks they take; you cheer for them to succeed in their mission and in life. There are also a multitude of sub-plots...Minny's employer, a white trash floozy who married rich, ostracized by society, and who would take a bullet for her maid. Skeeter's mother's battle with cancer. Aibileen's attachment to her employer's children, who she so desperately tries to teach lessons of equality and self-esteem. The unbreakable bond of friendship and love between blacks and whites, even during a time of discrimination and hate. I could go on forever. You will not want to put this book down, even for food and sleep.

Tell your friends. Tell your book club. This one's a winner.

5 out of 5 stars

29 comments:

ANovelMenagerie said...

I could not agree with you more on the rating! This is a great book and I loved reading and reviewing it myself!

farmlanebooks said...

I have seen several people rave about this book. I hope to get a copy soon, as you make it sound even more appealing.

Kaye said...

Yup, agree whole heartedly. I couldn't put this book down until the last page either. What an incredible debut novel. You hit the nail on the head when you said you could "hear their voices in your head". Oh, I could go on and on too. This is just one of those rare books that grabs you by the heart and soul. Loved it, loved it, loved it!

Sandy Nawrot said...

Sheri - I'm so glad to hear you say this...love fests like to have company! It is probably going to end up in my top books for the year.

Jackie - I'm always curious about the reactions you will have to the books I love. You always see things I don't, but I'm having a hard time imagining what's not to love with this one.

Kaye - I know that perhaps some of the success of this debut novel is the fact that the author grew up in Jackson with a black maid that she was very close to. My prayer is that she has more good stuff to write. She obviously has some serious talent with voices.

Susan said...

Sounds like my kind of book, Sandy! I should have chosen shorter books for my reading challenge list. Ahab's Wife is going to take me forever to read. In case you didn't see me post about it, I had to substitute this one for the Jesse Stuart book. It was a little too boring for me.

Molly said...

I cannot think of a better way to initiate your new Kindle than with a download of The Help. I absolutely LOVED the book, and especially Aibileen's character.

Rebecca @ The Book Lady's Blog said...

Welcome to the love fest! I think this might be the first book I've seen unanimously fawned over in the blogging community, and it is SO deserving of it. Glad you enjoyed it!

You're right on about the book club suggestion, also. I read this a couple months ago, but I'll be re-reading in 2 weeks for my book club. It's just that good.

Michele at Reader's Respite said...

Ack! You read it on the Kindle!!! (Yay!) I bought this one for my mother in law but haven't read it myself. Perhaps I should steal it back?

ds said...

Sandy, I'm adding this one to the list--you make it sound un-ignorable. Thanks for the great review!

Thoughts of Joy said...

I agree - "This one's a winner." :)

Iliana said...

What a wonderful review, Sandy! I love it when a writer engages us so much that we just have to gush about them :)

I hope to read this book definitely.

Beth F said...

I know I have to read this! And now you have to write a post on your thoughts of the Kindle.

Sandy Nawrot said...

Susan - life is too short for boring books, eh? I don't know how many pages The Help was (no pages per se on Kindle) but it only took me a few days to read.

Molly - I know! I've got about 20 more on the "Save For Later" page of my Kindle. But this one WAS the perfect way to break it in!

Rebecca - I am so happy to be part of the love fest family! I would totally read this book twice. The darned thing just takes over your life!

Michele - Yes! Steal it back! You won't have it for long, trust me.

ds - When you are in the need of something easy to read, this would be it. You must put it on your list!

Thoughts of Joy - Right on! Thanks for stopping by!

Sandy Nawrot said...

Iliana - Definitely move it up your list. It is a book that is just full of life.

Beth - Update on the Kindle forthcoming. Maybe Friday!

Shelley/Book Fanatic said...

I've been trying to get my bookclub to read this. I'm going to print out your recmmends and show them! I can't wait to read it!

Jess said...

WOW -- What a fantastic review. I will let me book club know.

Jen - devourer of books said...

Book club is a good call, this was such a lovely book. You're right that a big part of what made it work were all the subplots and storylines. They just made everything more real and kept the characters from becoming one-dimensional.

The audiobook is superb, by the way.

Sandy Nawrot said...

Shelly - well, if my review won't do it, put the person in charge on the phone with me! I'll convince them!

Jess - I definitely think this would be a great book club read!

Jen - You know, I had the audio book ordered from my library when I caved and ordered it on the Kindle. After reading it, I knew that the voices of these women could have been amazing!

Dar said...

You're so funny-working your way up to a major love fest. That made me smile. I have this on my shelf and yours is yet another review that is telling me I need to pick it up soon!

Matt said...

I'm definitely bumping this one up my TBR pile! What a great book with a great premise! And you're shuttling between different media...audio, Kindle, and the hardprint. :)

Melissa - Shhh I'm Reading said...

I knew you were going to love this one. The characters in it are just wonderful. I couldn't put it down and that is quite an accomplishment for a first novel.

Yeah for your first Kindle book too. :)

christina said...

A colleague just put this on my desk. I know it's been highly recommended from *everywhere*. Thanks for the fantastic review.

Melody said...

There're lots of good reviews about this book! You bet I'm going to add this onto my wishlist!!!

Kim said...

So you liked it then! :)

Great review, Sandy and looks like there are a lot of people in on the love fest with you.

Another one to add to my TBR pile!

Carrie K. said...

This one is definitely on my to-read list! Great review. :)

bermudaonion said...

I have got to make the time to read this book. Everyone keeps raving about it!

Serena said...

I don't yet have this book, but now I need to get my hands on it. thanks for another great review.

Stephanie said...

Great review! No wonder this book won best book of the year during BBAW!

Caitie F said...

I just finished this book and LOVED it!