My rating: 4 of 5 stars
As one of the highest rated books on my to-read list, The Help is entertaining and (still) has lots to say about race relations in America. It's not the end-all be-all, but definitely now a part of the culture of America with 1.5 million ratings on Goodreads, an Oscar-nominated & winning movie counterpart, and numerous pop culture references (seen most recently on SNL).
First thoughts: While I enjoyed this book, I was constantly aware that it was written by a white woman and I kept that in mind throughout, as a sort of reading lens. The book is aware of itself, though, as seen in these passages...
"I must be crazy, giving the sworn secrets a the colored race to a white lady." -Minny, p217
"A white lady do things different than a white man." -Aibileen, p256
"Look at you. Another white lady trying to make a dollar off of colored people." -Gretchen, p258
White Lady thoughts: I'm so glad Stockett put voice to the thoughts I was having, and that while she specifically had black characters narrate parts of the book, she seemed aware of the problems this could raise. I'm also glad that the movie takes it a step further and has Aibilieen's character narrate the entire thing - in that way she tells her own story, and we hear from black characters both first and more often than from white characters. Small things, but they make a difference.
More about the book: The length of The Help allows the reader to really sink into the world of Jackson's residents, get to know their motivations, and really feel the anxieties of each of the characters who narrate. It's a compelling story with plenty of conflict and emotions both light and heavy.
Favorite quotes (from Stockett's afterward, "Too Little, Too Late"):
"I was scared, a lot of the time, that I was crossing a terrible line, writing in the voice of a black person." -p450
"Wasn't that the point of the book? For women to realize, We are just two people. Not that much separates us. Not nearly as much as I'd thought." -p418
Final thoughts: If you're one of the few who haven't yet read The Help, you might as well join the club.
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