I just finished The Help by Kathryn Stockett and I had to tell you all about it! I don't read a lot of fiction but in my quest to read three books before the end of the year (one of my Eight in Eight goals), and my recent book buying, I picked this up for $5 as a substitute for missing the film a few months ago.
The Help is one of those stories that you read once in a blue moon that immerses itself into your soul and stays there. Set in the 1960's in Mississippi, The Help follows the stories of three very different, yet similarly remarkable characters – two black maids, thoughtful Aibileen and sass-mouthed Minny; and Miss Skeeter, a young, white, single aspiring author surrounded by shallow, married friends. The three unlikely and inevitable friends come together to write a book about being a African-American maids for white women (as the men were off working) in a time where it was not just frowned upon for them to even be seen together, but dangerous. The outcome is life-changing for everyone involved.
The premise itself is a world completely unknown to me, but utterly believable (in an 'I can't believe life was ever like this' kind of way). The book is split between the three protagonists telling life through their eyes, their stories intercepting and creating the flow of the timeline, with a host of additional (and sometimes hideous) characters simultaneously appearing and affecting their separate lives.
At first, I was just really enjoying the captivating story, until suddenly there was a point when I was truly touched by the momentous message this book was sending. One that I feel very attuned to; the message of perceived reality. That what we believe is based on our upbringing, experiences, and beliefs NOT what is actual reality. The history of segregation in Mississippi is one of these examples, the fights for marriage and gender equality (to name just two) are other real life, real time issues that are due to similar perceived realities.
There is too much story to try and even summarise, but I bought this book so cheaply that I just think you should go out and buy it and see for yourself! I was moved in so many points of this book, to see the changes of individuals, the two communities, and the world as the chapters unfold and the 1960's progress. The humourous and outrageous situations, the fear of what might happen should the secret of these women be uncovered by the wrong person and the ultimate pay off send you on an emotional roller coaster (if you're me, anyway) to come to such a satisfying conclusion.
After the acknowledgements, Kathryn Stockett wrote a chapter on her personal experience growing up in this world, her maid, and writing a book on the subject, not knowing the consequences she might be facing exposing such a raw nerve in America's social and racial history. The line that she says is her most significant and the point in the book where I realised the importance of the story was this one:
"Wasn't that the point of the book? For women to realise. We are just two people. Not that much separates us. Not nearly as much as I'd thought."
Isn't this life in general? Skin colour, who you love, what clothes you decide to put on that day, where you work? They are not what set us apart. We are all just people with the same blood and organs inside – it is our perceived reality and our thoughts and actions that separate us. And we are in control of those.
If you're looking for something to read over your holidays, I highly recommend The Help – you will not be able to put it down.