Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Book: The Help

Author:  Kathryn Stockett

Grade: A 

Recommended To:  Everyone.  Literally everyone should read this book.  

I was skeptical when The Help was chosen for my book club for this month, but oh. my. gosh. was it one of the best books that I've read this year.

I thought this book was a self help book - and I was surprised to learn that it is actually about the relationship between black maids and white employees during the civil rights movement.  I could not have been more wrong.   I think I would have passed this book by, if I hadn't been encouraged to read it by my friends - AND we are going to watch the author speak right here in Chicago.  How exciting.

This book was written in three voices:  Miss Skeeter, the white woman who wrote the expose book about how black maids were treated by their white employees; Minny, the loud-mouthed maid who finally found an excellent place to work; and Aibileen, the woman who has raised 17 children - 16 of whom are white.   Their stories are woven together to create a passionate and extraordinarily well written novel about the relationships between women, children, and racism in the deep south.  

This book has deeply touching moments - like when Aibileen starts telling her white charge about "Martian Luther King" the green alien from outer space and how he came to Earth to teach everyone that they are the same.  Or, when the reader finds out about some of the wonderful things the white women do for their help. 

But, the book has deeply unsatisfying moments, most of which involve Miss Hilly, the evil woman who holds the town in her powerful League grip.  It is unclear in the book why everyone bows to her commands - but she is a powerful voice for segregation and at times seemed a bit extreme.  Unfortunately, I didn't grow up in the south during the civil rights movement (though I've said often that if I could go back in time to any era, I would want it to be the 1960s) so I'm not sure how accurate Miss Hilly is, but she was an excellent protagonist against the other characters.

I can picture this book being read in classrooms all over the United States.  It is as good as some of the classics that are taught in high school English class and far less daunting.  If I ever decide to teach, this will certainly be on my students' reading list.

My one real wish is that Kathryn Stockett does not waste her second book.  Too often new authors with an extremely successful first book are rushed into printing a second and the second is far worse than the first.  Stockett is obviously talented, but writing too fast will waste that talent and her readership.

Pick up this book - I don't give A's often, but this book is well worth it.  I'll update again after we've heard the author speak!

Happy Reading! 

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