When a reviewer chooses to compare a new piece of fiction to that of a classic, you best believe I am going to be scrutinizing the story from page one. When that reviewer, in this case National Public Radio (NPR), endorsed The Help by Kathryn Stockett as, “one of the most important pieces of fiction since To Kill a Mockingbird,” you best believe my skepticism is over 9000. Given that To Kill a Mockingbird is hands down my favourite book of all time, I went into The Help with very high expectations. Did Kathryn Stockett’s New York Times bestseller live up to the hype? Keep on reading to find out my thoughts and opinions.
Set during the early 1960’s in Jackson, Mississippi, The Help mainly tells the story of Aibileen Clark, Minny Jackson, and Eugenia ‘Skeeter’ Phelan unconventional friendship. Unconventional in the sense that two of the women, Aibileen and Minny, are African American women working as maids in white households, while Skeeter is an aspiring Caucasian writer looking to escape the social circle she was born into. With the aid of other maids living in Jackson, the women work together to exploit the struggles of the coloured help, adding their voices to the civil rights movement of the 1960’s.
While this book dealt with issues similar to To Kill a Mockingbird, I think it should be noted that this book is in a league of its own.
Each of the women brought something different to the table and I want to touch on the individually.
By far my favourite woman represented in the novel was Minny. Man, was she a fire cracker. Though her rough exterior left many characters in the novel at arm’s length, I think the friendships she had were, in their own way, representations of her as a character. Her relationship with Celia, though in her words were confusing, showed a solidarity between women that isn’t touched on too much in fiction. Though Celia knew that Johnny knew about Minny, Minny chose to honor the pact between her and Celia. It was beautiful to read about, though that’s not what Minny would have described it as. Also, no more chocolate pie for me… just saying.
Skeeter’s journey was something that I can relate to, given that I am a white woman looking to get into the world of journalism. However, I am by no means a daughter of a plantation worker, so though we she share commonalities, there are also big differences. I think every girl, regardless of race, can identify with Skeeter, not only on her emotional journey of trying to help those around her, but also her romantic journey. First love can be tough, and rarely works, and I liked the fact that Stockett showed what I believed to be a real world love situation.
Aibileen’s story was probably the most touching out of the three. Here is a woman who wants the treatment of her and others like her to change, and yet, for the most part, she still loves her job. The relationship between her and Mae Mobley was beautifully written, and I don’t think I will ever forget the last chapter of this book and what those characters ended up going through.
I think, overall, this book is a must read, not because it is like To Kill a Mockingbird, or brings up difficult subjects, or teaches that those who are different still have similarities but that, “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”
Overall Rating: 5 out of 5 stars.