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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Follow my read: The Help

Like Skeeter, a main character in The Help, author Kathryn Stockett has uncanny timing.

In 1963 in Mississippi, Miss Skeeter is a journalism graduate and social oddity -- the only member of the Junior League NOT to pursue an MRS degree. She is also the only one of her society sisters who notices there is something not quite right about the treatment of the "help" in their households, and about the unseen lines between races and classes that everybody assumes are real.

Miss Skeeter notices this on the eve of the Civil Rights movement.

Kathryn Stockett publishes her first novel, The Help, at the current point of the Civil Rights arc -- within a month of the inauguration of the nation's first racially integrated president.

I feel I should temper my gushing, but really, I loved this book. There are three distinct voices from three well-developed characters:
  • Aibileen, a maid who has lost her own child and who has raised 17 white children. Her special gift, she knows, is to teach those little babies to receive and give love, and to help them feel important and worthwhile, even if their own mothers don't take the time to cherish them. And
  • Minny, whose cooking skills are matched only by her sass. Said sass gets her in trouble family after family after family. Until she begins to work for Miss Celia who, maddeningly and clumsily, doesn't adhere to the protocol of racial and class lines.
  • Skeeter, who returns from college to find that her beloved Constantine, the maid who raised her, has mysteriously up and left.
Despite the stifling social codes that separate them, these women join together to tell their stories, risking all to make a subtle change in awareness of imaginary lines. Along the way, there are funny moments, heartbreaking instances, and a little terror. I actually cried on page 389 (my advance copy may be different from the one you read).

The change begins with mean girl Miss Hilly and her ideas about toilets. And there's a load of crap that shows up from time to time.

This is the kind of book that you think about through the day, that you read way past bedtime, that you neglect your other duties for.

The Help just came out this week. Through MotherTalk, I received a complimentary copy and was offered a $20 gift certificate to I would give away my proof copy, but this is a book I will want to read with Tessa (and Reed) some day.

I'm sure we'll be hearing a lot more from this gifted novelist.

Thumbs up. Get this one on your nightstand.


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