My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is one of my favorite books of the year. The audio version is amazing.
The beauty of this book is in the characters, particularly the three leads. The South of the 1960s is a character unto itself, a highly segmented society in a world that is changing around it.
Skeeter was raised to be a Southern lady– her purpose in life was supposed to be getting married, having children, and running a household (with the unacknowledged assistance of the help). Her mother is embarrassed that Skeeter graduated from college without finding a husband, but Skeeter isn’t so sure this is the end of the world.
Skeeter doesn’t know it, but she’s ready to move into a new era. She’d like to work as a journalist. She’d like to have her writing published, not just her household tips, but something more.
She’s given an amazing opportunity– if she writes about something she REALLY cares about, it will be read by someone with the power to make something happen.
As she looks at her life, she realizes that a very important set of players is consistently overlooked– the help, the black women that do the day to day work of running the households and raising the children. These women are not treated with respect, and Skeeter wants to tell their stories.
Doing this is a risk for Skeeter, but the risk the black women are taking is incredible. This is one of the reasons that hearing the different viewpoints was so powerful– I wouldn’t have been able to feel this fear as thoroughly if I’d only had Skeeter’s view.
Aibileen is the first person to agree to work with Skeeter. She’s also a writer, although if Skeeter’s chances of being published are small, Aibileen’s are non-existent. This doesn’t stop her from watching everything around her with a writers eyes.
Aibileen mostly accepts her role in society, but she isn’t happy about it. She loves taking care of young children, and has been handed the raising of her current charges. She has a warm, loving demeanor, and wants to be a peacemaker– but she also wants change.
Minny is also involved in Skeeter’s project, although she is far less willing than Aibileen. She doesn’t trust Skeeter at all, since Skeeter is white. Minny is a strong, sassy woman who has made mistakes in her own personal life.
Minny doesn’t hold her tongue easily, and this has limited her employment prospects. She’s found a job working for a rather unusual woman, but has reason to think her grasp on the job is rather tenuous. None the less, when events of the day show all of her community how vulnerable they are, she is able to motivate more women to be interviewed for Skeeter’s book. She also is the one that comes up with the scheme that they hope will keep them anonymous, and therefore safe from retribution.
Going back and forth between the three characters, seeing how it took all of them to make Skeeter’s book happen, and seeing the effect the book has on everyone in the community was compelling reading.
The book did an amazing job of telling the story of the society of the time by showing us these three women and their lives. There were some funny moments, as well as many touching ones and outright sad ones. There were beautiful tales of love and respect between some of the pairs of white and black women.
I listened to the audio version of this book. I think it is one of the best audio productions I’ve listened to, and really added to my enjoyment of the book. Hearing the different voices (with appropriate accents) for the 3 characters really helped them come alive for me. All narrators were excellent.
I read this book for my Book Club M. We had a good discussion in spite of only having three of our six regular attendees– two of them had last minute situations come up. I think all three of us liked The Help more than we expected– one didn’t really want to read it, but really enjoyed it. We talked about what made the book work, about how authentic we found the characters, and about the different paths that Skeeter’s life could have taken. I strongly recommend The Help for book club discussion.