The Help, by Kathryn Stockett

It is far too late for a pregnant woman to be up writing book reviews. Silly, really. Couldn’t it wait until morning? It could, but I fear by then the emotional charge coursing through me would be gone and I might, in some way, fail to translate how I’m really feeling.

Books make me cry a lot. I cry because stories are powerful, because my emotions link to those of the characters that capture my heart and my attention. With this book, I cried for those reasons. But it’s more than that this time.

Here I sit, twenty minutes after finishing, still wiping the tears from my cheeks. Let me see if I can explain why.

I’ve studied the civil rights movement. I’ve read Martin Luther King. I know the significance of what Rosa Parks did when she refused to give up her seat. I know what Jim Crowe laws are, and shaken my head at the injustice of it all. But from what have I gained my perspective? I wasn’t there, was I? What I’ve learned, I learned from history books, from documentaries and broadcasts detailing the lives of those willing to sacrifice life and limb to fight for equality and justice for all. There is nothing wrong with these true and respectable accounts.

But there is always more than one perspective.

I’ve just read “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett. It’s a book set in Jackson, Mississippi in the early sixties, detailing the lives and relationships of white high society women, and the black help; house maids, maids that cared for children, that cooked meals and ironed shirts, and changed bed linens.

This book picked me up and put me right in the middle of the deep south in a world that I’ve never really thought about before. I can’t say I’ve ever thought about what it was like to be a maid in Mississippi in 1964, how it would feel to know that all the women in your family before you were maids, on up to your great grandmother who was a house slave. To know that the best way to take care of your family is to leave them at home and go take care of someone elses, because it is the only way a black woman in Mississippi can earn a paycheck.

I felt the emotions of these women, the good, the bad, the fiercely intense, the heartbreakingly sad. I felt the prick of every injustice, the indignity of very intentional segregation. I found myself shaking my head, knowing that their really were women that insisted the “help” use a separate bathroom in the garage for fear of catching a disease if they used the ones inside. I found myself hoping that had I lived fifty years ago, I would have acted differently, not played the games of society, but stood up and fought for what was right.

And there were those that fought. The book is full of lines; lines between black and white that people aren’t supposed to cross. But as you read, you witness a handful of women discovering that those lines only exist in people’s minds, and that with enough courage, they can be erased.

When I finished reading, I cried because I know how far our country has come, and then I cried that any people, of any color, would ever need endure such painful persecution.

I won’t stop thinking about this book for a long time.

Read it, would you? I’d love to know what you think.

13 thoughts on “The Help, by Kathryn Stockett

  1. Cindy says:

    First of all, yes, you have to write the book review in the moment. I keep thinking that I'm going to start blogging about the books I'm reading, but because I don't do it in the moment the intensity of the desire fades and then is gone. So thanks for blogging about it, and I'm going to look for it at my library!

  2. Melanie J says:

    I grew up in Louisiana and this era is near to me, if not exactly always dear to me. Anyway, I keep running across this book. I guess that's a sign I need to read it. πŸ™‚

  3. Happy Mom says:

    My book club is meeting thursday to decide all of our books for the year. I've been trying to decide what to suggest and getting no where this year. Thanks for the idea!!

  4. MommyJ says:

    I would imagine wait lines are going to be long at any library just about anywhere. It's a new york times bestseller, so, big demand, for sure.For what it's worth, it's only $13.72 on Amazon. I bought my copy, and don't regret it one single bit. It's definitely a book I would like to read again.

  5. Rachel Sue says:

    I will have to look that one up. Have you ever read Uncle Tom's Cabin? Your reaction to this book sounds remarkably similar to mine when I read that. It was a hard one to read, but so totally worth it. (hard because I sobbed through half of it.)

  6. Code Yellow Mom says:

    I'm putting this one on my list.I remember touring a plantation once and standing in the outdoor kitchen/laundry in July, looking at these huge cauldrons and suddenly feeling the heat of the work of washing and cooking, and then thinking of WHO would have been doing it, and that they were doing it for someone else's family. Without pay. I stood there totally overwhelmed, both at the amount of work, and at the thought that it was normal!

  7. Hil323 says:

    Hey…there was a Lifetime movie about that with the lady from Home Improvement and Forest Whitaker. I'm not that much of a chick flick girl…but it was an excellent movie. I don't know if you know this, but for awhile I lived in Alabama because of my Dad's job. Our church was in an area of a town where many old homes and "old South society families" live. Quite different from where we grew up in NC. One of the first memories I have or racism (and hypocrisy) happened around the age of eight. We were driving to church one morning and lookig for a parking space. A lady who went to our church, whose family was HUGE in our church-and the small town, actually came out on her balcony of her home, dressed to the nines for church, waving to a some person or another. On the porch below her, a black woman was sweeping the porch. In a uniform. My dad said something like "Jeez, how awful…" and then mom told my sister and me to look very closely at what we just saw. Later, after church, she explained to us about hypocrisy and the fact that black maid should have been with her family, and most likely at HER church that morning (as most older black women in that area were quite religious). She did her best to explain racsim to a 4 year old and an 8 year old (one of my best friends was black and I remember being really upset that people may treat her like that!) I also remember feeling really sorry for madi. I had quite the imagination…I made up a whole image and everything in my mind. I think that may have been the first time I saw, or at least realized what true racism was. Years later, I saw that movie (and I think I'm going to try to find the book you just reviewed) and I wondered what kind of relationship that black woman had with the woman on the balcony. Anyways, maybe it is a start to a short story of mine! Or maybe you can use it!!!Just thought I'd share…

  8. charrette says:

    I read The Help at about the same time you read it! And now I wish I'd stayed up late and written a review that very night. I waited until we'd chewed it up at book club, which was good, but I had to go back to my Goodreads review to find that original freshness.p.s. I've had the loveliest time scanning through all your posts until I finally found this.

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