Reviewing The Help, by Kathryn Stockett

I recently finished reading Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, a New York Times Bestseller that I’d never even heard of until I saw a movie poster about a month ago. I’d take the kids’ to see the new Pirates movie and saw a movie poster with Emma Stone on it. I like Emma Stone. I think she’s hilarious. I regularly quote her from Zombieland, when Bill Murray‘s exaggerated death scene is finally over after one.final.gasp and she says with an almost glee “He just gets me.” (Click to see Zombieland, Bill Murray death scene).

Thus, solely based on her being on the poster, I decided to check into the movie and “discovered” that it was based on a book.  Now I generally like to read books before seeing their movie counterparts, so as to not be “tainted” by big screen interpretations. (Although, I didn’t start reading Harry Potter until after the second or third movie and only read Twilight after having seen RPatz shimmer on my TV screen. Also, I’ve seen all three Girl movies (Dragon Tattoo, Played with Fire, Hornet’s Nest) but couldn’t make it more than a 1/4 way through the first book. … So I guess my whole “read first” motto is pretty much bogus, eh?) Anyway, I read The Help and the movie’s not even out yet. So there. Warning: this review may contain spoilers.

The Help is set in Jackson, Mississipppi, in the 1960s; so it deals with race relations as one might guess. The story switched back and forth (though not too much to be annoying) among the points of view of three women: Aibileen, a maid in her fifties who secretly counts all the white babies she’s raised over the years as her own; Minny, a maid in her mid-thirties who’s been fired from one too many jobs on account of her inability to hold her tongue; and, Skeeter, a 22-year-old college graduate whose friends and parents presume is well on her way to spinsterhood and who crosses the very visible, invisible class line to tell the real story of the help.

Ultimately, after quite a build up to getting their stories, Aibileen and Minny convince other maids to talk to Skeeter, who intends to tell things, good and bad, from their point of view in a tell-all book.  Her initial motivation for the book wasn’t to be an activist; she was simply trying to get the attention of a potential employer in New York.  However, as one might expect, this story that she and the maids are telling together has a profound emotional effect on her and, to a certain extent, the community as a whole.

There were things I very much liked about the book and things that struck me as a little forced or too tidy.  For instance, I loved the language, both conversational and descriptive. In my opinion, there is a forced event, when a naked man shows up to, I suppose, terrorize Minny and her boss lady.  Why was he there and why was he naked and what did it have to do with the story, if anything? I’m not really sure. I suppose it’ll make for a funny scene in the movie though. And, ultimately, just after the book is released and hitting the white ladies’ coffee tables all over town, Skeeter gets that chance-of-a-lifetime opportunity in New York, leaving the maids to deal with any fallout … presuming there is any … as the book ends before too much else happens.

All in all, I think I’ll wait for the DVD or Netflix. Sorry Emma.

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