Retro Review: The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Thursday, April 07, 2011

I've been blogging for about 9 months, but I've been reading for 18 years, so there are many wonderful books I've picked up along the way that I haven't reviewed for this blog. While I obviously can't get to all of them, I thought it would be fun to occasionally go back and write some of my thoughts on earlier reads. I noticed yesterday when I was leaving work that The Help just came out in paperback, so I thought it was the perfect time to write a little "retro review."

Title: The Help
Author: Kathryn Stockett
Genre: Literary fiction, historical fiction
Publisher: Amy Einhorn Books, 2009
Source: Personal copy/Audio file from Audible

I read this book around this time last year, which means that glorious period in the college students life: finals. We had picked this title for out book club selection, and I'd promised myself I would not get started until after I'd finished my finals, because I knew (from my roommate Katie's behavior) that once I started I would be no use to anyone. Sometimes it is good to just stay up all night and finish a book, but not when that book is 464 pages long. However, Katie was so excited about the book that she wanted me to start it so we could start talking about it. Generous friend that she was, she lent me her iPod, which had the book on it from Audible. (At the time, I worked 40 minutes away from my apartment, and had to make the drive three times a week). So I listened to the first half or so of the book, and then when finals were over, read the rest on my Kindle.

For those not familiar with the book, The Help is a story told by three women in the south, and the complicated relationships between the white women and their black help. The two worlds seem to exist in parallel, the same setting but completely different experiences of life, until Skeeter, a white writer dissatisfied with her life, society's cultural expectations, and inequality, decides to write a book told from the perspective of black women about their white employers. The creation of the book leads Skeeter and the women she interviews on a journey of self-discovery, at times touching, at times dangerous.

Honestly, when I read this book, I found no flaws. Granted, I was not reading critically at the time, but I was swept up by the voices in the story. The Help is told in a light-hearted, humorous way, but carries a strong undercurrent of passion and importance. The intertwining of the serious subjects of racial inequality, lynching, and abuse combined with the hilarious descriptions and escapades of the characters (particularly Minnie). I was dying to know what happened next- good thing I did wait (mostly) until I had finished finals before reading the book. My roommate, when she was listening, would walk around the apartment with her headphones plugged in, and even wore them when she was grocery shopping. She also went running more often than usual, because she couldn't get enough of the story. Stockett keeps back tantalizing details, keeping the reader engaged until the opportune moment to reveal them. (Prime example? Chocolate cake. You'll get it if you read it).

I loved the characters as well. They are all distinct from each other, all slightly awkward and unpolished, but absolutely delightful. Stockett gives many small details to personalize each character and bring them to life - Minnie, who sweats all the time (except for about ten minutes in January). Skeeter, who can't get her hair to look good unless she spends hours treating it with hair goop. Abileen, who began writing her prayers instead of saying them when she had to drop out of school and wanted to practice her writing, and who is known in her church for having the faith to pray down miracles. The minor characters are also enjoyable - I loved/hated Hilly, who is so vindictive and nasty, but so hilariously rendered.

Writing this review makes me want to reread the book, especially since it is the same time of year and thinking about those weeks brings me back. The Help is a fun and entertaining book that touches some deep issues. I highly recommend it!

Overall: 5 (since it's been a while since I've read the book and I wasn't reading critically, I'm not going to break down my reasons for recommending it. Just be aware that my writing is completely subjective).


  1. Lorren, I loved this book too. Did Katie tell you she's started a book club out here in Boston? We've read Nickeled and Dimed (didn't actually read it, I ran out of time) and Peace Like a River (and you know how great that one is). Now we're supposed to be reading Salt: A World History, which I'm super excited about but with the end of the semester I don't know if it's realistic that I'll do it.

    I did, however, finish Satanic Verses (almost). SO GOOD. Read it. Have you read Haroun and the Sea of Stories? I'm reading it this weekend and using it to structure my 15-20 page paper about the power and importance of language and stories and SV. So excited (and overwhelmed).

  2. I just finished listening to the audio and absolutely loved it! Rarely do I like an audio book, but I finished the 18 hrs in 2 and 1/2 days and loved absolutely every second of it!


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