Sunday, May 13, 2012
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
For the longest time, I misunderstood what this book is about. When I first heard about it, "The Help" sounded like some odd, philosophical, esoteric title I would have no interest in. As soon as I started seeing movie trailers, I realized I was totally off the mark and my interest was sparked. Clearly, I should have read the dust jacket. Lesson learned.
Now that I know better, I can tell you what this book is really all about. It's a look inside segregation right on the brink of major social change. It takes place in the deep South (Jackson, Mississippi no less) and shines a spotlight on what it was really like to live in the time of Jim Crow. It is told from three different points of view. Skeeter is a recent college grad with big dreams of becoming a writer. Abileen and Minny are two African-American maids who agree to be interviewed by Skeeter for a highly controversial book she wants to write telling the world what it is really like to work for a white family.
The main antagonist, a woman who represents all that is evil in man-kind, is a Southern "belle" Miss Hilly Holbrook. Not only is she a horrid example of the racism of the day, she is also what I refer to as a "mean girl," a downright bully. It's not bad enough that she herself holds such awful beliefs, but she tries her darnedest (often successfully) to force them upon others. As some of the other characters are starting to see the light, she's dragging everyone around her back into the darkness.
Despite all the ugliness in this book, there is also a whole lot of love. Despite how horribly unfair these maids are treated, they essentially raise the white children of the families they work for. They can't use the same toilet, but they form true and loving relationships with the children while they are still young enough to be color-blind -- before they have been taught to hate and discriminate. The relationship between Abileen and "Baby Girl" is so sweet it could break your heart. You could read this book for that part alone.
As difficult as the subject matter of this book is, it is still moving, enlightening, and absolutely a must read. If this book doesn't touch your heart, I think it may perhaps be as cold as Miss Hilly's.