The Help: Book Review

The Help
by Kathryn Stockett

I’ve had this book on my shelves for a while, and had refrained from watching the movie. I knew how iconic the film was, and wanted to make sure I read the book before diving in to the pie drama. Yes, sadly I knew about the pie before reading a single page, but it didn’t stop this book from packing a powerful punch.

This novel follows three main points of view: two black women who work as maids for white families, and one white woman who wants to write a book about black maids’ experiences. I was trepidatious when I realized this novel voiced the perspectives of two black women, but was written by a white woman. With that knowledge in the back of my mind, I decided I still had to give this a chance, and form my own opinions.

The first page was a shock to the system. I am ashamed to admit how ignorant I have chosen to be up until this point in my life. This book begins with a date in the 1960’s. The 1960’s. I couldn’t believe it. That was the year my parents were born. That was the year of the hippies, of peace and love, and long crazy hair.

What I hadn’t realized was that it was also the decade four black students decided to sit in on Woolworth’s lunch counter, Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered, and men and women of color were largely treated like dirt by their white ‘neighbors’. Sixty years ago. Not one hundred. Not four hundred. Sixty. I grappled with that fact from page one, and all the way to the end of the book, and until now while writing this review.

This book was beautiful, heartbreaking, haunting, and exploratory. By and large, the plight of the African Americans featured in this fictional world was heartbreaking and demoralizing. I was grateful that the author also included a few moments of hope; gems where white women secretly treated their black maids like family. However, these moments were not enough to negate their public behaviors towards black people in their town or their homes.

I don’t know how to talk about this book without talking about race, inequality, or the sickening injustice of black people in an American town. I think everyone should have to read this book. Skip the movie, which in my opinion had instance after instance of Hollywood white washing the plot. I watched the movie with a friend (via Netflix party: social distancing for the win) the day I finished the book, and was outraged by how much they had changed to make the white women look even slightly better than they had been portrayed in the book.

I honestly don’t know where I’m going with this review. My emotions are clouding my mind and twisting up coherent thoughts.

If you’ve made it this far, here are my concluding thoughts: this book should be required reading, the writing from character to character was incredibly distinct and personalized, the story was embedded with historical references that made this book truly come to life off the page, and while this book did many wonderful things to shed light on the injustices of the time it also created a white character who saved the day.

That would be my only complaint with this book, but perhaps it’s more of a complaint directed at history. Would it have been possible for any of the black characters to save themselves from their lives or their livelihoods? Or was their only way out really dependent on the coattails of a college educated white woman?

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