I know it’s been out for a while, but recently I got around to reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett on a bet I made with my step-father and, having read some negative reviews of the book, decided I’d write down my own opinion.
For those of you who may not have heard of the book, The Help is a fictional story based in 1960’s Jackson, Mississippi during the height of the civil rights movement. The main character, Skeeter Phelan, is an aspiring writer who has just come back home from college. From the beginning, Skeeter is different from the other girls she grew up with. She’s single, with no marriage prospects, and unusually nice to the colored help in town. When the editor of a major publishing house challenges Skeeter to write a compelling book about something she actually cares about, the young woman begins working on a book containing a compilation of stories told by the colored help about their experiences working for white women. The story follows the naive Skeeter through her difficulties both at home and in the highly prejudiced, segregated community of Jackson, Mississippi.
I first heard about The Help when it became a movie in 2011. After it came out on DVD, my mom and step-dad sat me down and had me watch it with them. I started watching the movie thinking, “Civil rights…real life…chick-flick…boorring.”
Boy, was I wrong!
For starters, as a young, aspiring author myself, I was quickly able to identify with Skeeter. Between her social awkwardness, frizzy hair, and writing dreams, I almost felt as though Skeeter were a blond version of me. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my writing, it’s that the best thing you can do for your story is to create characters who the audience can identify with.
The story itself is both compelling and hilarious, the main characters are loveable, and the historic accuracy is not so bad, either.
When I started reading the book in July, I went in expecting a drastic difference between the book and the movie. After all, that’s usually how it goes, right? What I found, however, was a very recognizable, loveable story.
The description in the book is fantastic. Most of the way through, I could easily picture the scenes in my head, even if those scenes weren’t actually in the movie.
The book is narrated by three different people – Skeeter, Aibileen, and Minnie – each telling their views of the situation as it unfolds. All three have a unique voice, with the narration written in each character’s own dialect, and it’s usually pretty easy to figure out who is talking.
Over all, the plot is a very serious one, but there are funny scenes in it, too. There were many times when I simply had to put the book down because I was laughing so hard.
One review I read claimed that the dialects used by the different characters were unrealistic. Possibly, but the difference wasn’t so drastic for me that it bothered me that much. I grew up in the south and around many different dialects, and the voices of The Help were accurate enough that I, personally, could easily hear them in my head, though reading was something of a challenge at first because of the bad grammar used by most of the characters. If you’ve ever read Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, just imagine that heavy Southern dialect as the majority of the narration instead of just in the dialogue.
The only thing I didn’t like about it was the fact that the ending wasn’t an all-the-good-guys-win sort of ending. Granted, the ending isn’t bad. None of the characters die or are horribly harmed by their actions, contrary to what would probably have happened in real life during that time period, but the ending is still realistic enough to be bitter-sweet.
All in all, I really enjoyed the book. Actually, it’s probably one of the best books I’ve ever read. If you don’t like bitter-sweet at all, whatsoever, then The Help may not be for you, but if you’re interested in a historically based, comical story, I would highly recommend reading it.