Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Just Finished: "The Help"

As most of you know (or should know if you've 1. been reading this blog for awhile or 2. know me well) I used to work at a bookstore until quite recently. My favourite part of that job was hearing what people were reading, getting recommendations, and suggesting books to customers. Now that I have more time for myself, I am slowly making my way through all the book customers have been recommending for awhile and I'm so glad that I am. The Help was one of those books like Water for Elephants that people had been telling me I need to read ever since it was released in February 2009. I have to say that I honestly had no idea what it was about. The only thing I knew was that it took place in the 1960s or so and involved some African Americans. And that came from the information about the movie adaptation that's currently in production. I can't believe I never even picked up the book to find out what it was so I could better recommend it to customers! *hangs head in shame* Here's the synopsis from Chapters:

Be prepared to meet three unforgettable women:
Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.
Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.
Minny, Aibileen's best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody's business, but she can't mind her tongue, so she's lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.
Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.
In pitch-perfect voices, Kathryn Stockett creates three extraordinary women whose determination to start a movement of their own forever changes a town, and the way women-mothers, daughters, caregivers, friends-view one another. A deeply moving novel filled with poignancy, humor, and hope, The Help is a timeless and universal story about the lines we abide by, and the ones we don't.
Massive synopsis, I know. Sorry! But now you know more than I did when I picked up the book.

Once I got started and figured out what the story was I really didn't think I was going to love it. It's not a time of history that's ever particularly grabbed me before. Happily, the book proved me wrong. I ended up really enjoying this book and I highly recommend it.

My favourite thing about this novel was the fact that there was such great historical detail wrapped up in the most amazing personal stories. The characters were so well rounded and all three women, Aibileen, Minny and Skeeter, had the most unique and fantastic voices. Stockett does a great job of bouncing between stories and it doesn't get confusing at all. She seems to perfectly sense when she should switch to another character to get their perspective on a certain event.

I liked that Stockett had quite the extensive author's note at the end of the novel. I don't have the book with me anymore (supported my local library :) reserving books is a fantastic thing) so I apologize if I get something wrong. She explains why she felt the need to write this story. She grew up in Jackson, Mississippi (where the novel takes place) and had a black maid and this relationship seems to be mirrored in Skeeter's relationship with Constantine. She also talked about how she had many helpful people who made sure her historical details were accurate, and also made sure to mention that there were three things she refused to change even though the timing was incorrect. If you can figure them out, I applaud you...though, in my defense, I was born about 25 years after the book took place... :)

There isn't really anything negative I would say about this book. The only thing I that would have made me like it more would be an ending that is more clear cut. I don't want to give anything away, but I will say that while things do get wrapped up for the most part, there's one character whose life is completely up in the air at the end of the novel. I guess this makes it more realistic, which I can respect, but I enjoy knowing exactly what the characters are doing after the novel is over. Anyone else feel that way?

The movie comes out later this year and I will be going to see it. Or, at least renting it. It's hard to find people who want to see these adaptations with me. Still waiting to see Water for Elephants! I think they have a pretty good cast and am looking forward to seeing how the actors portray these amazing characters.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and I think it can appeal to many different types of readers, particularly those who like historical fiction. Has anyone else read The Help? If so, what did you think? If you're looking for a good read, definitely go pick up this book. You won't regret it!

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