This month’s Eclectic Reader book was The Help by Kathryn Stockett (more info on the Eclectic Reader Challenge under the “Challenge” tab). Since I don’t usually read historical fiction, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself immediately drawn into the story. Everything, from the characters to the conflict, was beautifully done.
A short synopsis: Aibileen is a black maid raising her seventeenth white child, a child whose mother shows no love towards her own daughter. Aibileen’s friend, Minny, has a hard time holding onto a job, but manages to get one working for a young woman who has more going on in her house than she lets on. Meanwhile, Skeeter is a white woman just home from college who wants more than anything to be a journalist. Together, these three women start working on a tell-all book that will show what life is really like for black women in Mississippi.
Now, to say it was beautifully done is not to say the subject matter is beautiful. The conditions and trials these women had to go through were in some cases downright horrifying. I cannot even imagine being as awful as some of the white women portrayed in the book, though I know that if I had grown up during that time period I may very well have turned out that way.
Some of the things in this book baffled me. On one hand, the maids are trusted and even needed to raise the children of white families. And yet, throughout the book the main protagonist insists that “they” have different diseases than white people, that “they” should have separate bathrooms, that “they” cannot be trusted with polishing the family silver for fear of stealing it. I can’t comprehend what sort of strange worldview would lead to these contradictory beliefs.
Moving on from the atrocities in this book…I thought the characters were wonderfully done. I couldn’t pick a favorite if you asked me. Aibileen, with her mothering nature? Minny, the one who’s always got a sarcastic comment ready? Or Skeeter, the curious and ambitious woman trying to eke out a new life for herself? All of them were incredibly believable and I cared for them all during the course of the novel. The prose was lovely as well.
Of course, the main bit of The Help is about civil rights. It’s about people who have been kept quiet for so long finally speaking out and being heard, no matter the consequences. But more than that, the thing that struck me, especially toward the end of the novel, is that this book is about freedom.
All of the protagonists, in one way or another, find personal freedom: freedom from people, from places, from situations. They find ways to reinvent themselves, to carve their own paths, to let no one dictate for them what they will do with their lives. That, I think, is the point of the novel: behind every big movement or decision is a need for freedom and change.
I can’t get over how just wonderfully done this novel was. Everything flowed perfectly, and I had a thoroughly enjoyable time reading it. This, I think, is a book that everyone needs to read, for several reasons. Certainly the subject matter is something that cannot and should not be ignored, and that holds priority over any other reason to read it. But in addition to that, people should read it just because it is a great book. Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
Well, I guess that’s all I have to say on the matter. I’m hoping to watch the film adaptation of this book sometime soon. We’ll see how it holds up to the print version.