The Help by Kathryn Stockett is one of those books that rests on my “to be read” list for years. And every time I come across it I think, “I really, really want to read that.” The danger in that is that the expectation of loving the book builds up, and this often ends in disappointment. I’m happy to say, that is NOT the case this time. This book totally lives up to the hype that surrounded it.
I think one of the best things this book has going for it is that the main three characters—Aibileen, Minny, and Skeeter—are so. very. likeable. (And not just likable, but distinct. It was easy to tell whose voice you were in, even with the multiple viewpoints going from chapter to chapter.) And there were likable because they were so human. Flawed and scared, yet still so very brave and willing to sacrifice so much to be a part of something important.
And then the characters that are irritants—that act as catalysts that inspire our heroines to be bold—are so very deplorable. Although, I have to say that when it comes down to it, Stockett does a good job at fleshing out her antagonists as well. We even see Miss Hilly as a good and loving mother. (Truth be told, I didn’t think she was the biggest offender anyway. I thought Elizabeth was the most offensive because she was so weak when pressured by Hilly to do things she knew were wrong.)
There is, of course, a lot more to the awesomeness of this book than just that. For one, I think Stockett does a really good job of dealing with something ugly and traumatic in a way that lets us see beyond it. Racism in the deep south, especially during the advent of the Civil Right Movement, was horrific and gruesome. You could dwell on the violence and injustice and pain of it, and find yourself in a deep dark place. And while Stockett does bring some of that heart wrenching material into the book (oh. so. heart wrenching… at points I was just so very angry), she does it in a way that doesn’t leave you in that dark place.
I think the way that Stockett handles humanity in this book reminds us that both good and bad people are capable of doing awful things. And then reminds us that good people are also capable of doing amazing and brave things. This left me feeling inspired, and wanting to be the later type of good person. Which is perfect, because they other thing that struck me about this book is that many of its themes are still relevant today, all these years after the Civil Rights Movement. The world still requires good people with a strong voice.
This is a “you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll leave it a better person” type of book.
I give it: