I am pleased to introduce today’s guest poster who has a very entertaining blog called Jolyse Barnett’s Margarita Moments and Other Escapes and she has kindly reviewed the popular book “The Help” so take it away Jolyse.
The Help by Kathryn Stockett is a #1 New York Times Bestseller and major motion picture. A good friend of mine recommended it to me as a must-read.
The novel is set in Jackson, Mississippi, during the early 1960’s. This was a time of great social upheaval in America’s Deep South. Birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement featuring real-life figures Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, the setting is anchored by Stockett with historical references.
Stockett sprinkles in popular 60’s TV, inventions, personalities, and music. Jackson life is depicted through three main characters—Abileen, Minnie, and Skeeter. I enjoyed a trip down memory lane with characters’ impressions of Bob Dylan’s music, the modern air conditioner, and the advent of Valium and birth control pills. Stockett’s use of first-person viewpoint and believable dialect immersed me even further into the era.
An older African-American woman, Abileen was trained as a young girl to care for white people’s homes and their children. She works only with the babies and youngsters, moving to a new family before her charges viewed her as inferior rather than as their beloved caregiver. She tolerates many injustices in her life, but it’s only after her son’s accidental death (working for a neglectful, uncaring white boss) that Abileen becomes bitter toward her lot in life.
Minnie is a younger, feisty African-American woman, with many children and an abusive husband. She also is a housekeeper, although her outspokenness has cost her many positions. She’s very distrustful of white people, and especially white women—with good cause.
Skeeter learns her beloved housekeeper has mysteriously disappeared during the time she’s been away at college. Frustrated by the lack of answers and enlightened by her higher education, she begins to notice the race inequities in her hometown. She naively seeks a job with a major NYC publishing house, intent on working as a writer and gaining independence from her judgmental mother. The editor takes pity on her, suggesting she submit book topics. Skeeter types up a bunch of ideas off the top of her head—including life as a Jackson housekeeper. Of course, the editor practically dares her to get that story, since Mississippi has been in the news for its controversial segregation laws.
Skeeter is incensed by her former friend’s push to require housekeepers’ use a separate bathroom in the homes where they work. She approaches Abileen, the only African-American housekeeper she trusts. Abileen refuses, fearful for her livelihood, her freedom, and safety. However, a string of horrific incidents occur that ultimately changes Abileen’s mind and gives her the courage to enlist the help of other Jackson housekeepers, including Minnie, to share their stories—both good and bad. I believe the interviews between Skeeter and those housekeepers with positive feelings toward their white employers make this story even more compelling and believable by highlighting the complexity of the two cultures’ relationship.
Secondary to these three women’s quest to write an expose on Southern life, but as appealing to me as a reader, were: Skeeter’s relationship with her ill mother, Skeeter’s romance with a Mississippi senator’s son, Minnie’s relationship with her abusive husband, and Minnie’s first friendship with a white woman. I yearned to know the secret behind Skeeter’s old housekeeper’s disappearance, whether Skeeter would get her happily-ever-after with Stuart, and why Minnie wouldn’t tolerate guff from her white employers but allowed her husband to beat her.
The controversy toward The Help—both the book and movie—alludes to the continuing rifts between the races in America. In my opinion (as a white Yankee woman), socio-economics are even more of a factor than skin color today. Skeeter may not have been risking her life to write this book, but she risked all her lifelong relationships, social standing, and her future husband for this cause. On the other hand, Minnie and Abileen would be hailed as heroines within their community if they succeeded.
The Help is a story that will make you think: How much closer are we to Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream than we were fifty years ago? As Abileen says, “We be different, but we don’t have to hate each other.”
Jolyse Barnett is a contemporary romance author and blogger of Jolyse Barnett’s Margarita Moments & Other Escapes. When she’s not around kids, watching HGTV with her cat, or at her laptop writing, Jolyse can be found biking through Key West, shoe shopping, or sipping wine with friends.
Thanks so much for the book review Jolyse. Its so interesting to see a debut novel take off like this. Kathryn Stockett‘s book, The Help, took five years to complete and was rejected by 60 literary agents before Susan Ramer agreed to represent her. The book has sold over five millions copies and spent over 100 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list. It just goes to show you what hard work and persistence can lead to and a great book of course.