Monday, December 28, 2009

Babies + "The Help"

This picture doesn't have much to do with this post. I just love it and wanted to post it. That is my little sister (R) with two of our cousins who are just her age, and they are the best of friends.

Today I am reviewing a book called The Help, by Kathryn Stockett.

Coincidentally, it is about women who raise babies- colored* maids who raise white women's babies in the South in the 1960s. The story is told from the perspectives of three women: an elderly maid who is (mostly) resigned to a life of obedience, a sassy younger maid who can't keep a job because she refuses to take her employers' injustice in silence, and a young white wannabe journalist who interviews them for a book she dreams of publishing. The book tells the story of these three women and the three white women the maids work for, plus a huge number of family members and friends.

This book deals with social prejudice, racial injustice and cruelty, and just about every human emotion under the sun. It spent part of this year on the New York Times bestseller list and it's been talked about a lot because of its difficult themes.


1. The story traces the lives of six women (and a host of other people) yet it rarely gets confusing. The length of the book allows for a slow unfolding of secrets.

2. The book captures your attention and keeps it. It hints and hints at coming revelations- sometimes it hits you over the head with how little you know- until finally, at the very end, it reveals the secret.

3. It's a wonderfully thoughtful work- the author clearly did insane amounts of research and crafted the story with artistry and commitment. The plot is intelligent, has great structure, and presents a worn theme in a fresh way.


1. Much of the book is told in a folksy, down-home tone, along the lines of "I could a tole him he'd ketch his death of cold." Boy, does this get annoying after a couple dozen pages. The book would have been much improved if it had dropped the exaggerated Southern dialect.

2. The morality in this book can be pretty questionable. The basic struggle against racism is commendable and is portrayed well, but a number of smaller issues seem downright fishy. For example, the book implies that modest dress means you're repressed and it caters to stereotypes of the hard-bitten, multiple-divorced career woman. How about a working woman with a happy love life for a change?

3. Overall, it's just sort of... flat. The secrets are dragged out for too long. There are way too many scenes of people sitting around having tea. It's a good beach read and worth some discussion, but most of what it has to say has been said before.

Verdict: Skip it. Read To Kill A Mockingbird instead- twice the substance with half the twang and none of the boring bridge parties.

*Note: I apologize if the term "colored" is offensive. It is the word used in the book so I used it here. If anyone is offended by it, I would be happy to change it- just let me know.

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