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The Help Paperback – April 5, 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. What perfect timing for this optimistic, uplifting debut novel (and maiden publication of Amy Einhorn's new imprint) set during the nascent civil rights movement in Jackson, Miss., where black women were trusted to raise white children but not to polish the household silver. Eugenia Skeeter Phelan is just home from college in 1962, and, anxious to become a writer, is advised to hone her chops by writing about what disturbs you. The budding social activist begins to collect the stories of the black women on whom the country club sets relies and mistrusts enlisting the help of Aibileen, a maid who's raised 17 children, and Aibileen's best friend Minny, who's found herself unemployed more than a few times after mouthing off to her white employers. The book Skeeter puts together based on their stories is scathing and shocking, bringing pride and hope to the black community, while giving Skeeter the courage to break down her personal boundaries and pursue her dreams. Assured and layered, full of heart and history, this one has bestseller written all over it. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
From Bookmarks Magazine
In writing about such a troubled time in American history, Southern-born Stockett takes a big risk, one that paid off enormously. Critics praised Stockett's skillful depiction of the ironies and hypocrisies that defined an era, without resorting to depressing or controversial clich√©s. Rather, Stockett focuses on the fascinating and complex relationships between vastly different members of a household. Additionally, reviewers loved (and loathed) Stockett's three-dimensional characters—and cheered and hissed their favorites to the end. Several critics questioned Stockett's decision to use a heavy dialect solely for the black characters. Overall, however, The Help is a compassionate, original story, as well as an excellent choice for book groups. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
I read a little of this novel but, for the most part, I listened to the audiobook version. It's worth every penny to pay for the narration. They went all out in producing this audiobook. Usually, you only get one narrator in an audiobook. But this book had four narrators. So there were a plethora of voices to help distinguish between the characters so that the reader/listener knows who is speaking.
And the book was FUNNY. It's not a comedy... it's a drama. But I love funny books and the author threw in just the perfect amount of laughs in this piece. Come to think of it, though, if chocolate pie is your favorite pie, maybe you'd better not read this book.... I may never eat chocolate pie again. But it was worth it to have read/listened to this book.
I mention this because of a rather snotty review of this book in the New York times that dismisses Stockett's rendering of dialect as "outdated" in the inimitable way New Yorkers have of dismissing a great number of things they know nothing about. I have heard that dialect as a living language (I was teaching at a black college near Greenwood), and I know that her ear for the spoken language has perfect pitch. Her eye for social dynamics is similarly acute. The southern response to the law requiring social security be paid to full-time employees, including domestics, was to reduce the number of hours those people worked until they were no longer full-time, while requiring them to keep the house running and the family fed pretty much as they had done at 40 hours (and generally more) per week.
The Help is a novel about the subversive activity of producing a book that tells the truth about how whites treat the blacks, their children, their spouses, and each other as told by those who know them best, their maids. Racism is, of course, rampant to the extent that the white have no tradition of "pas devant les domestiques:" they appear to assume that these black women are too dim to comprehend what is going on. For their part, the black women are fearful of being interviewed by the awkward white woman with literary pretentions, Skeeter Phelan, and it is no wonder: in that society, if word of who spilled the beans gets out, neither the spiller nor her family will get work again if they are lucky. The unlucky are beaten, sometimes fatally.
A turning point in the book is the murder of Medgar Evers, an event that galvanizes black resentment and makes more women willing to testify for the record. The process is a learning experience for both them and Skeeter: they feel pain when they tell their stories, but the telling is therapeutic. They feel better about themselves and what they have done when they release their stories. Skeeter learns about them and about her own white attitudes growing up; together they learn that the white mistresses are just as trapped in their ignorance and compromises as they themselves are.
It is said of American art in general that it is all regional art (a contributing cause of New York reviewers having difficulties with "outdated dialect" of other regions), and this is certainly a work of its region. The Help is Stockett's first novel, and I trust it shall not be her last. I hope she will write within the region she knows so very well--possibly as well as another Mississippian who dwelt in cherished fine details, William Faulkner.
Reading the fictitious, yet very real stories of the Southern help creates an illustration of how prevalent racism really was. The white ladies of Jackson were convinced to pass "a bill that requires every white home to have a separate bathroom for the colored help." We always hear about the classic stories of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr., but these stories are more real and personal. Along with racism, The Help displays how segregated the South was in the 1960s. It was a true risk for Skeeter to work on a book with the African American help; risking her career and reputation, as well as their careers and very possibly, their lives.
One of the main characters and narrators of the book, Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan has a very strong-willed, independent personality. She chose to write about what she was interested in, not necessarily what was socially acceptable. "I get to work writing down every goddamn thing that bothers me in life." Skeeter may face some obstacles along the way, but you will have to read on to find out if she prevails or not.