The April book for my QOSO Book Club is "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett. I'd seen it on shelves at local bookstores for months and had even picked it up and carried it around a couple times. At $24.95 for a hardback ($14.95 when it's on sale), I decided to download it on our Kindle for $9.99!
I'm not sure how to begin my review of this book. I still feel like it's not over even though I finished it days ago. Stockett does an amazing job of keeping you interested in all of the ongoing story lines weaved throughout the book. Told from the perspective of multiple, interwoven characters, "The Help" delves into the good, the bad and the ugly sides of being a woman in 1962 Jackson, Mississippi.
The black domestic servants have a bond that only they may ever truly understand. The hate that they're exposed to is sick and heart-wrenching. The community they share is rich in experience and uniqueness. One white woman vows to share these women's stories and make things right.
The white, upper-class women have their own bond, one built on tradition and expectations. From Junior League meetings to bridge club, their lives revolve around society's priorities. They charge their maids with not only managing the home, but even with raising their children.
Without going too far into any one character's story, I will say that the two most endearing aspects of the book are 1) maid Aibileen's relationship with the white children she raises and 2) the unusual relationship-turned-friendship between the help and one honest white woman who believes in the power of story-telling.
I should note that this is Stockett's first book and she does an amazing job herself of story-telling. As a white female writer (who had black help as a child - [and I have to note how similar her story is to that of the character Miss Skeeter]), she took on the tough task of using 1960s Southern dialect, specifically used by poor blacks. Having been exposed to some of it, I thought she did a fairly good job with it.
Conclusion: This book is a tragic, but beautiful and reader-friendly. It's a page-turner that runs the gambit of emotions. Keep in mind that this is a book intended to entertain (not to be a strictly historical commentary) and you ought find good value in "The Help."
Post Script: I attended Book Club today and was totally dumbfounded at one point when a member asked who had black help growing up. I did!? I was shocked to realize that I hadn't once thought of my own experience with black help. I'm assuming it's because my experience was so significantly different - different time/place/situation.
Toddy was my Ethiopian nanny as a small child. (I believe Toddy was short for something - Momma?) My parents helped her (and eventually her son) become green card holders here in the states. Sadly, I don't remember much about her since I was so small when she left us and my parents divorced. I can't remember her voice. Her face has been almost completely erased over time. I do remember, though, her big, warm arms and her tubby, round belly. And her smell.
I saw her once when I was a pre-teen. At least, I think I saw her. I was waiting in the car as my mom ran in to pick up dry cleaning. I swear that I saw her in there, behind the counter. I can't imagine how this really did play out (if at all). The odds are so small, but I really can swear it happened. I hope it did. I feel this new want to see her now. To "meet" her for the first time. I always have a ton of new questions to ask my parents, both of whom are surely asleep and not up for the conversation, but I hope I'll have the chance soon to learn more about my own "help."