I like reading first-time novelists. There’s something about fresh raw talent that produces exceptional piece of literature. Some of my favourite debut novels are Aravind Adiga’s “White Tiger” and Audrey Niffeneger’s “Time Traveller’s Wife”. These novels were unique in all aspects and Kathryn Stockett’s “The Help” is no exception. I think I’ve done my fair share in recommending this book to my friends but I guess doing a review will even encourage more readers to pick up this good read.
Allow me to share with you why the USA Today named it “Book of the Year”, why Oprah picked this for her book club, why it’s been in the New York Times bestseller list for the longest time (since it was published in 2009), and why I’m raving about this excellent book.
I won’t spill the beans for those of you who plan to read this book. I’ll just share the reasons why I LOVED it and what’s pretty challenging about it. To start off, “The Help” is a novel about the poignant intertwined lives of Aibileen, Minny, and Skeeter. Set during the early 1960’s in Jackson, Mississippi, this book gave a voice to the silent cries of black maids during that time.
Aibileen, a middle-aged black maid, is probably the noblest help in the community. Raising her 17th white child, she is compassionate and devoted to the kids entrusted to her. It was at Aibileen’s voice that the novel began and ended. She is not your typical black help, Aibileen is wise and in her own way, regal. Minny is not your typical tongue-tied black maid. In fact, she has the biggest mouth in the neighborhood. Her humour stands out in the novel yet it is her strong outspoken character that differentiates her from the rest. Skeeter is a 22-year-old aspiring writer, who is expected by her mother and everybody else to be married at that time. She is white but that did not stop her from exposing the debilitating situations of black maids in their town. Skeeter was also raised by a lovely black help named Constantine who apparently left their household and no one would tell why. It is in this process of discovery and brave exposition that these three women uphold each other to free themselves and the rest of the black maids from the prevalent social injustice.
Kathryn Stockett wanted to preserve the voice of the black maids by using their language when they are the one’s narrating the story. With that, I found it very challenging when I read the first page of the book, hearing it from Aibileen’s voice. Here’s an example of one of her dialogues,
And how I told him don’t drink coffee or he gone turn colored. He say he still ain’t drunk a cup of coffee and he twenty-one years old. It’s always nice seeing the kids grown up fine.
I find myself going slow on those parts where it is either Aibileen or Minny’s narrative. This is what I specifically like about the book; it is true to its origin and very organic. Never mind going slow, it is the raw voice that you will actually hear as you do that.
A true page-turner, this book piqued me in a way that it opened my eyes. It also made me laugh and pleasantly surprised me in many ways. The story line was seamless. The characters were distinctly memorable. The language was prolific regardless of the point of view. The author’s bravery in writing this piece is purely exceptional. “The Help” is BOLD, MOVING, and for a fiction read, it is ironically REAL.