Annalisa's Reviews > The Help

The Help by Kathryn Stockett
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it was amazing
bookshelves: book-club, historical-fiction, voice
Recommended to Annalisa by: Jeana Quigley

Here is an illustrative tale of what it was like to be a black maid during the civil rights movement of the 1960s in racially conflicted Mississippi. There is such deep history in the black/white relationship and this story beautifully shows the complex spectrum, not only the hate, abuse, mistrust, but the love, attachment, dependence.

Stockett includes this quote by Howell Raines in her personal except at the end of the novel: There is no trickier subject for a writer from the South than that of affection between a black person and a white one in the unequal world of segregation. For the dishonesty upon which a society is founded makes every emotion suspect, makes it impossible to know whether what flowed between two people was honest feeling or pity or pragmatism. An eloquent way to describe Stockett's intentions for this novel. I know most reviews will probably focus on the racial relationships in the book, but to me the most haunting statement was that when you are paying someone to care for you and their livelihood depends on making you happy, you can't expect an honest relationship.

I did not expect this book to hit so close to home. After all, I did not grow up in the South and completely missed the racial mind shift in the country. But the book isn't just about racism and civil rights. It's about the employer relationship too. And I did grow up in South America with a maid trying to keep herself out of poverty by making our crazy family happy. As much as we loved her, I can see so many of the pitfalls from these complex relationships in my own history. I know our maid was stuck between pleasing my mother and raising us the way she believed appropriate. I know it was physically hard to work from sunup to late everyday and emotionally hard to never relax because she wasn't the decision maker of our home and at any moment she could be reprimanded for making the wrong decision. She had absolutely no power, and yet she was all powerful to shape and mold us.

I needed her, felt bad for how much I imposed upon her, but I never voiced how much I appreciated or loved her. I took her for granted. Even though she was paid to love us, I know she did. We were her children, especially my youngest brothers. And yet when she moved back home, we lost contact. Was it out of laziness of our own narcissistic lives or was the complexity of our relationship so draining she cut the tie? It is my fear that she thinks we did not return her affection and only thought of her as the maid. I often think about her, we all reminisce about her wondering where she is, and more than anything, I just want to know that she is happy and tell her thank you. It is so strange that someone who is such a vital part of your childhood can just vanish out of your life. "They say its like true love, good help. You only get one in a lifetime." I know. Believe me, I know.

The story is strong and real and touched something deep inside me. I could so relate to the motherly love from Constantine to Skeeter, see that pain in the triangle between Aibileen and Mae Mobley and Elizabeth, feel the exasperation of Minny toward Celia, and understand the complexity of the good and bad, the love and hate, the fear and security. Stockett captured all these emotions.

I also loved the writing style. When style compliments plot, I get giddy. I don't always love grammatically incorrect prose or books about an author trying to be published, but here it works because it's honest. The novel is about a white woman secretly compiling true accounts of black maids--and the novel is in essence a white author trying to understand black maids. The styles parallel each other as do the messages. The point of Skeeter's novel is to make people see that people are just people no matter the color of their skin and Stockett's novel beautifully portrays that with both good and bad on both sides. The fictional novel cover is decorated with the white dove of love and understanding. To get us there, Stockett gives us three ordinary birds, a picture of ordinary life asking to be accepted for its honest simplicity.

This book is Stockett's masterpiece, that story in her that was just itching to get out. From the first page, the voice of the characters took vivid form and became real, breathing people. I loved Aibileen, but think I loved Minny's voice more because she is such a strong character. Besides the maids, I loved Hilly as a portrayal of the white Southern belle with the ingrained belief that black people are not as good as whites, verbalized as "separate but equal" so it doesn't sound racist. My favorite scene was when Hilly says they have to be careful of racists because they are out there. She's a bit over the top, but if you've been to the South, not that far of a stretch. I just would have liked to find some redeeming qualities in her from Skeeter's perspective.

While there are some instances where I felt Stockett was squeezing historical facts into the novel, forming the plot around these events instead of letting them play backdrop, and occasionally I could read the modern woman in this tale pushing her message too hard, Stockett's sincerity to understand and appreciate shines through. She lived this book to some extent and the story is a part of her. Because it's important to her it becomes important to me.
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Reading Progress

June 17, 2009 – Shelved
July 22, 2009 – Started Reading
July 22, 2009 –
page 4
0.9% "I have a feeling I'm going to love this book."
July 26, 2009 – Finished Reading
July 27, 2009 – Shelved as: book-club
July 27, 2009 – Shelved as: historical-fiction
August 21, 2010 – Shelved as: voice

Comments Showing 1-40 of 40 (40 new)

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Laurel Wow, Annalisa -- what a great & thoughtful review! I loved this book as well. I originally gave it 5 stars, then after a few days reflection, changed it to 4 only because of a few minor flaws (I thought Hilly was a little overly stereotypical). But, not having grown up in the South either, I think perhaps you're right -- that sadly she really was not all that much of a stretch. I love the connection you made with your own upbringing and hired help. Great review... makes me want to read it all over again (and bump up my own review back to 5 stars). :)

[Sorry if you got this message 3x;):]

message 2: by Annalisa (last edited Jul 28, 2009 07:06PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Annalisa Thanks Laurel. It is stereotypical, but some things are best described in caricatures. And I didn't get it 3x :).

Jeana I'm excited to read this now. Great review.

Lynn Wonderful review--really looking forward to reading this.

Rachel I wish I could say it like you do. Spot on review. I loved this book.

Bonny " me the most haunting statement was that when you are paying someone to care for you and their livelihood depends on making you happy, you can't expect an honest relationship."

Thanks Annalisa for this insightful observation. You've expressed something I've been thinking about lately, but much more clearly and eloquently than I ever could have. I'm not yet done reading The Help but your review has made me look forward to finishing it re-reading your review for more insights.

message 7: by Annalisa (last edited May 08, 2010 01:41AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Annalisa Thanks, b. The book made me think (reminisce) a lot. I hope you enjoy it.

message 8: by Carol (last edited Dec 04, 2009 06:23PM) (new) - added it

Carol Neman Annalisa, how poignant your review of The Help was. It makes me want to read the book, even though my tastes right now run to the lighter fare, perhaps cozy mysteries or mild love stories. But I'm a sucker for deeply emotional relationships that play out to a good end. So I probably will put this on my personal list of books to be read. Thanks for the long and intimate review!

message 9: by Omni (new) - added it

Omni I saw your review first and have considered reading this book. I have to wonder though how a white woman can write a truly illustrative portrayal of what it means to be a black maid.

Annalisa Omni, of course she can't fully understand what it's like, but she wants to understand and that's what the book is about. The main character is a white woman writing a book trying to understand what it's like. We only understand as much as she does.

message 11: by Hillary (new) - added it

Hillary Annalisa. Great review. Extremely well said.

Gloria Kudos to you. You got deep meaning from this story and made it more compelling for me. I did grow up in the 60's. You brought meaning far beyond those times.

Susan Annalisa, I, too, loved your thoughtful review. I grew up with a part time domestic in the north. Much of her demeanor was informed by the standards for domestic behavior seen in the book. My siblings and I would never have survived adolescence without our Naomi. She also cared for my kids when I was early married. I know I never paid her; I guess my mother did. But I'm not sure that I ever really thanked her. What I do think Skeeter (and Aibileen) saw as positive in Hilly was that she cared more genuinely and interactively with her kids than did Elizabeth. The voices on the audiobook were wonderful.

message 14: by Jaymie (new)

Jaymie I am currently reading and truly enjoying this book with one exception. I was born in 1962 and we always had a black maid until I was about 11. I can honestly say we never treated our maid the way the maids in this book are treated. Our relationship with our maids was more like that of family. Hattie was like a second mother to us. As a matter of fact at her funeral our family came and when we went to sit in the back, her family said no. We had to sit at the front with the rest of the "family". I don't ever remember my mother being rude to her or any of the other maids we had. I know I never was or I would have been spanked. I knew all the other maids in the neighborhood and to us kids they were just a fact of life. Almost every family had one to clean, cook and keep the kids. And we loved them dearly.

Kelly It was a "good read". We discussed it during my most recent book club meeting. I'm looking forward to the casting for the movie adaptation. I can envision certain actresses portraying certain roles.

message 16: by Carol (new) - added it

Carol Neman Kelly, who would you cast?

Kelly Celia Scarlett Johansson
Abileen Loretta Devine
Minny Viola Davis
Skeeter ?

My casting isn't complete :)

message 18: by Annalisa (last edited May 08, 2010 01:41AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Annalisa I'm not a fan of Scarlett Johansson but she does do a good job playing the dumb blonde who gets by on her looks, so yes, she would be perfect.

message 19: by Zaki (new) - rated it 5 stars

Zaki Zaki Amazing book, I enjoyed it a lot.

Katie Annalisa...thank you for taking the time to write this thoughtful review. I requested this book from my library, and just got an email that it's ready to pick up. I'm starting it tonight, even though I had 2 other books in the hopper ahead of it! I appreciate your review!

Annalisa Thanks, Katie. Hope you enjoy the book.

message 22: by Beth (new) - added it

Beth On recommendation from my daughter, I have requested THE HELP, from our local library. Having read Annalisa's review, I am curious to compare notes - being from a black,West Indian middle-class family, growing up with black maids at that time.
(I suspect that even without the 'racial factor'-which so obsesses southern American literature, there will be MANY human and emotional similarities.)

Katie LOVED this book! This will definitely go on the list to re-read someday. At times it was heart wrenching and sad, and at other times joyful and uplifting. So beautifully written.

Thanks again, Annalisa, for your poignant review!

message 24: by gdg (new) - rated it 1 star

gdg And so what will you do about racism now?

message 25: by Barb (new) - rated it 5 stars

Barb What a touching review. I hope you find your former caregiver so you have an opportunity to thank her.

Annalisa Thanks, Barb. I do too, but I doubt with her being in another country that I'll ever see her again :(. I guess I just need to be grateful for the time I did have with her and all she's done for me.

message 27: by Stephanie (new) - added it

Stephanie Malone What a wonderful review, I just started the help. Decided I would see what the hoopla was all about (lawsuit etc) Loving the novel so far. I am from the south (Texas to be exact ) and heard ! stories like the plot of the help from my Granfmothers generation. My family is Black, Irish, French, Indian, German & Spanish - so the storytelling was exciting to say the least. Thanks for the insight..

message 28: by Colin (new)

Colin Thanks! Completely ruined the book for me.

message 29: by Elen (new) - rated it 4 stars

Elen I loved the book and when I heard there was a film coming out I thought oh no,they will ruin it. I went to see the film two days ago and I loved it. Ok couple of changes but must say it was pretty close to the book. I will go and see it again.

Annalisa Elen,
I've seen it twice. I loved it.

Norelle I loved this book too.I had a maid growing up here in New Zealand. While she was white many of the issues were still there,especially who was raising the child.It left me thinking alot about how this comes up in my life when fostering children of different cultures.It is sad that people cant see past a colour.

message 32: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim You verbalized exactly what I couldn't! I grew up in the South, and you encapsulated my love for Lucille, our "maid". This book speaks to so many... You are an awesome writer!!

message 33: by Annalisa (last edited Nov 30, 2011 12:46AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Annalisa Ah, thanks Kim. That is the best compliment you could give me. Our maids are part of the family, aren't they?

Ferran Iniguez Very good review! Thanks a lot! I am currently reading t'he book and i am really enjoying it!

message 35: by Mary (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mary Great review. You really got to the heart of what this book was about. Thanks!

Cadiva great review, I have no experience of having paid help at all but I totally agreed with your paragraph about her writing style.
My only criticism was that I thought she did Stuart a disservice, it would have been good to have had just one other white person break the mould.

Cereja Cult Amazing review. I love it.

Yasmine I totally agree with you!
more people should look at it from the employer and employee relationship point of view.
I relate to what you said

Linda What a great review! When I read the book, I couldn't help remembering what the early 60s were like - even in Canada we got the news reports that told us that times were definitely "a-changing". I also heard a lot of reminiscing by people who had been exposed to the reality of segregation. One man related how he was visiting Florida and noticed that there were often lines of coloured people at the back of the ice-cream parlor. He found out that, not only were they not allowed to sit inside, they were not even allowed to order the flavour they wanted, but simply had to be content with whatever flavour they were given. I remember how a friend in Canada told me that, when she was going to school in California, she found that the other students were quite friendly, until she made the mistake of chatting with some coloured girls - then her newfound "friends" stopped speaking to her. So many story long-forgotten stories have re-surfaced. Maybe they should not be forgotten. Maybe we need to remember.

Annalisa That is so sad :(. I agree. Stories definitely should not be forgotten.

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