Books Made of Paper

Kathryn Stockett: ‘The Help'

Gigglers: I’m not going to seek out the newest hardcovers and tell you whether or not to buy them. And while not the Sunday Review, this Sunday blog will explore my brilliant and fascinating thoughts about books. Please use the comments section to share your own thoughts on this book, or whatever you’re reading.

If you haven’t been living under a rock, you’ve heard of The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, and may have even been on a library waiting list to read it. But if you haven’t read it yet, perhaps I can explain what all the fuss is about.

It’s a book that takes place in the ’60s in Jackson, Mississippi, and focuses on the lives of well-to-do white ladies and their “help.” The book is told through the eyes of two maids, Aibileen and Minny, and one young white woman, Skeeter, who is the only un-married, living-at-home gal among her friends who were all married during or the minute college ended. She’s twenty-two, which basically makes her a spinster.

Anyway, what I think people love about this book is that it drops us into a world many of us do not know that much about. I learned about the civil rights movement in school, but that’s different from getting in the heads of the people who lived it. The way in which some of the white women depicted in this book treat their maids, and the way they think about race, is astounding when you really imagine yourself in the moment, which is exactly what Stockett allows us to do.

The Help

From the film: Emma Stone, Octavia Spencer & Viola Davis (left to right)

Of course the book is fiction, but Stockett is from Jackson, Mississippi, and the book reads with authenticity. It also moves very quickly, with lots of visual detail and cinematic drama. While I often shy away from movies based on books I’ve read, this one I’m dying to Netflix. It doesn’t hurt to know that it won oodles of awards with a cast including Viola Davis as Aibileen, Octavia Spencer as Minny and Emma Stone as Skeeter.

The suspense is mainly around a book (titled Help) that Skeeter, an aspiring journalist, has decided to write. An extremely dangerous project, given that it’s a collection of local maids’ stories about their experiences and writing it necessitates secret meetings between Skeeter and the black maids of her town. Even the slightest sympathy with the civil rights movement was considered punishable by jail to Skeeter’s friends, who had the influence to make the court of law function in their favor.

Race is still an issue–we all know that, though we’ve also come a long way. Some friends were recently talking about gay rights, and how long that’s taking to get up to speed, but just like civil rights moved slowly but surely, we are getting there. After all, we have an African American president, which no one in a million years would have believed in Jackson, Mississippi, in the ’60s.

It’s this change that is infectious in The Help, because you know it’s coming. You know that Skeeter, and everyone fighting with her, win in the end, regardless of the impact. It made me think about all the other things that need to change in this country and the world, and what I should be doing about it.

Have you read the book? Seen the movie? What did you think?

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  • Alice Dielens

    Hey! I read it, and loved it. It raises so many questions and issues. As a European who lived in MS for a while, I really had an exterior point of view on the question and I believe the book was depicting everything really well. I even wrote a review of it on my blog: :) x

  • Melissa Kowalewski

    I really liked it too although I have to say, it makes me upset that the most popular movie of the year which also has strong black female characters only refers to them as “The Help”- it’s stereotypical, as in strong, black women aren’t doing anything except being maids. I promise, mainstream media, that I can handle a strong woman of color and not be threatened!

    • Sarah Gollhofer

      It’s called The Help because it’s about the help…Should the book and movie have instead been called “Strong Black Women Sharing Their Stories with a White Girl Who Likes to Write”…? I don’t believe that the author meant the title to be derogatory at all…otherwise she probably wouldn’t have written a book about this topic. The title is just telling what the book is about…The Help! And what’s wrong with being a maid anyway?

  • Naomi Perry

    I have a whole bundled bag of mixed feelings about this book (yet to see the movie)- I go into more depth here ( ) if you actually want to know about these mixed up feelings… it’s not so much a review as a confession of confusion about these feelings.

    Generally I think that racism is a really really tricky topic for any novelist to tackle successfully, especially if you are a white woman writing from the perspective of a black woman about a civil rights movement that was taking place when you were a baby.

    Reading The Help was a weird time for me haha.

  • Christina Martinez

    I have to agree with Naomi about this one. I also think the ending was kind of unfinished, like she was in a rush.

  • Sherri McDonald

    The audio version of this book is FABULOUS!

  • Kelle Neal

    I think she did as well as she could do with what she had lived and from her experience. As a strong black woman (gasp!), I have to say that I wasn’t the biggest fan and was satisfied to neither read the book or see the movie, so I reserved judgment until a friend suggested we go see it for my birthday. There we were, three black women in a predominantly white part of town seeing the film and although I didn’t want to see it I’m glad I did. I’m glad because then I could weigh in on what I thought and I didn’t feel negative or that she got many things wrong, but that there was an element missing in the story — black perspective. Seen from the perspective of the other characters and not “the help” I think it was brilliantly written as well as acted. But through the eyes of a black Southerner who had an aunt that worked for white people around the time this story was set (it wasn’t a bad film or terrible book, in my opinion), I just felt that the very heart and soul of the ones the story was supposed to be centered around, was lacking.

    • Alexis Rae Demandante

      The black perspective was definitely missing. It’s unfortunate, because the film really does cater to a white audience and continues to ignore white privilege. Otherwise, it could have been a fantastic film (and book).

  • Erica Lane

    My mother and I both read this book, and upon reading it, my mom had told me that she had an African-American nanny growing up, who, her grandmother would refer to as the help. She was from Kentucky, and grew up in an extremely tense racial environment, my mother cried while reading the book because she was so young, she didn’t realize the actualities of what these women struggled with during their time as nannies. Overall for people who are not familiar with growing up in the south the book seems to do a good job illustrating the internal struggles that many families dealt with.

  • Stefani Kester

    I thought that the maids in the story were brave and took a great deal of action. While telling someone your life story in complete detail might not seem like a big deal, consider what a risk that would have been as an African-American in the 60’s living in the South. In real life, if the town found out the identities of “the help” who contributed to the book, they would have been murdered if they weren’t arrested first.

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