Recently, I finally got around to reading The Help, the best-selling book that was made into a blockbuster, Oscar-nominated movie in 2011. Kathryn Stockett's novel has been around since 2009, but I hadn't been aware of it before all of the recent buzz generated by its Hollywood adaptation. Had I known how good this book was, I would have read it so much sooner!
A couple of weeks ago, I was down in AL, doing my best to lend a helping hand while my son and his wife were moving into their new home. With twin baby girls to care for, mountains of boxes to unpack, and thousands of sheets of packing paper to compress and dispose of, they needed all the help they could get! During my stay with them, I certainly had no time to read during the day; not with eight-and-a-half-month-old twin granddaughters (who had just decided they'd like to become more mobile, and found a whole new lease on life once Daddy brought home two new walker chairs) on the premises. But I was happy to read to my granddaughters, or feed them, or take them for walks, or sing to them--off-key, but with enthusiasm--throughout the daytime hours. Grammy was thrilled to play the role of "the help" in a home where any work I did was by my own choice, and I knew that I was loved and appreciated.
Once I hit the sack at the end of the day, though, I looked forward to spending a little time each night reading this wonderful book--about a whole different way of life than any I could ever imagine--by talented writer Kathryn Stockett, devouring its compelling prose until my eyelids grew too heavy to go on. There's nothing like having a good book going (don't you agree?), and every night when I began a new chapter, I could hardly wait to see what was going to happen next. The Help somehow manages to be heart-breaking yet funny, poignantly moving yet sharp-witted. For the week that I spent getting through it, a little bit at a time each night, I felt I inhabited the very real world Stockett has skillfully created. I felt I knew her characters; they became real people to me. As USA Today reported, "You can't stop reading until you've devoured the last word. Its characters jump off the page and into your heart."
How true that is! The characters really do come to life in this book. They practically breathe. The NY Times said, "The two principal characters [Aibileen and Minny] leap off the page in all their warm, three-dimensional glory." Entertainment Weekly called The Help "compulsively readable." NY Daily News gave its endorsement of the book, deeming it "a good old-fashioned novel." I have to agree with all of these reviews found on the back cover of the paperback copy I bought. The Help is a good old-fashioned novel. It's a page-turner that makes you care about everyone in it. And it's that rarest of animals: a work of modern fiction that tells a great tale, and even includes a love story, without relying on blush-inducing scenes of sexual intimacy. As Siskel & Ebert used to say when rating movies on their old T.V. show, I give it "two enthusiastic thumb's up."
I don't want to give too much away, but here are a few tidbits. Low-key Aibileen, one of the maids who works for a white family, is thoroughly lovable--and whenever she talks about her relationship with her young charge, Mae Mobley, she gives a perfect description of the unconditional love of a mother for her child. I was very moved by all the scenes between Aibileen and that little girl. Sharp-tongued Minny, another one of the maids, is uncompromising, fearless, and hilarious--and all I can say is that after reading this book, you'll never look at chocolate pie the same way again. Skeeter, the self-deprecating young white woman who sets out to write a tell-all book from the point of view of the help--in the 60's, in Mississippi, meaning this is a move that will make her a pariah with her social set if they ever find out about it--is an extremely likable character, too (not to mention funny and courageous). You'll find yourself pulling for her as she sets out to acccomplish her goal, and holding your breath whenever her secret project is in danger of being exposed.
You'll be on a roller coaster of emotions as you read The Help: you'll laugh, you'll cry, and you'll want to cheer out loud. I've never been involved in a book club before; but after reading it, I'm thinking about starting one here on my street, and having this be the first book on our list--just so I can talk about it with others who've enjoyed it as much as I have! Get it. Read it. I don't think you'll be disappointed.
(Oh, and by the way, when I got back from AL, my husband and I watched the movie version on pay-per-view. It was very good. But the book is so much better!)