Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

The greatest thing about this book is its diversity.  Funny how a book centered around the themes of segregation and racism should end up with 'diversity' as one of the words used to summarize the story.  But, it's true.  The characters crafted by Stockett are all so unique and independent of each other you honestly can't lump them into groups.  African-American or white, each woman in the book is her own person - you either like or dislike each character solely for who they are.

And who do you absolutely hate?  Hilly Holbrook
And who do you absolutely love?  Aibileen

The rest of the characters splay out in the grey area between these polar opposites.  Even though Hilly never narrates any portion of the story, she encompasses the hatred and ignorance generated from segregation while our narrators (Aibileen, Minny and Skeeter) cautiously move forward across the lines that have forever separated domestic help from their employers.  Skeeter gets brought behind the veil shrouding the domestic help in her town to write a book chronicling the real experiences these women have had.  As a white woman, Skeeter is risking her own safety to write these stories, as much as the black women are for sharing them, but the women come together to tell the truth.  Among the truth-telling, Skeeter learns a hard reality about what happened to her own childhood nanny whose sudden disappearance was always a mystery to her.

In addition to this coming together of races, we see our narrators come into their own as independent women.  Minny overcomes an abusive husband, Skeeter suffers through the process of becoming an adult, and Aibileen learns to take control of her life. 

But in the spirit of writing reality even through a fictionalized lens, things aren't perfect for our heroines and the book concludes leaving an unknown future for us as readers to just guess at.  We're optimistic - these women have already shown their true strength, but we don't know how it will all end.

This book is the complete package for a novel with easy-flowing, engaging narrative even with three different voices telling the story, dynamic, fully-realized characters, and an actual story centering on personal growth in three very different ways.  I can see why the novel became so popular so quickly and definitely suggest it was a great summer read if you're looking for something a little less lazy than the hottest chick-lit.