20 December 2009

The Help

Kathryn Stockett has been tearing up the bestseller lists with her debut novel The Help so I decided I would make it my first-ever book to read on my nook.  Stockett deserves all the praise heaped on her book; I loved the way the narrators rotated the story between the three of them (Aibileen, Minny, and Miss Skeeter), I loved how there was just enough dialect to hear the voice in my head but not so much as to make it unreadable, and I loved how much I cared for Aibileen, Minny, and Miss Skeeter (and how much I really hated Miss Hilly - hag).  This was such an enjoyable book - even though it was terrifying at times because of the time period and characters - and I was sorry to see it end (although it ended on a perfect note and a little cliffhanger).

The Help shows me my niavete; dead serious, as much as I know how poorly people of color were treated (and in many places still are no matter how many laws protecting their rights) it still blows my socks off that one person would treat another as sub-human just because of skin color.  I'm from Iowa and my high school was pretty evenly split among white-kids-with-money and poor-white-trash; our minority students were nearly all Asian, all fairly well-off, so I just never saw anyone mistreated because of race.  I actually witnessed hatred based on homophobia before I witnessed hatred based on race.  Reading through The Help I just wanted to step into the book and tell "Miss" Hilly (she really is a horrible person) that all that crap about catching diseases from black people is the biggest lie I've ever heard in my life; ooh, just makes my hair stand on end.  I would like to think that, placed in the same 1960s South, I would at least take Miss Skeeter's position and not toe-the-party-line of racist ideology.

There is a feminist thread running through The Help and the burgeoning feminist wave does come to bear in the novel.  WASP-y Miss Skeeter has graduated with a college degree...but no husband or fiance (gasp, shock and horror, because you have to get married and sprog; look what it did to Miss Leefolt who is lurching around in some odd post-partum depression fog).  She is given the opportunity to get her toe in the door in the world of journalism and to come through she must do something that is monumentally unpopular and she must convince the black maids (the "help" of the title) to tell her their stories, both bad and good.  She also must confront her own passive racism, that she has taken advantage of "the help" for so many years without thought to how hard the women work, for how little take-home pay, and how tenuous their employment remains. 

I wish I read The Help earlier in the year - now I must amend my "best-of" lists!

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