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The Help

by Kathryn Stockett

Theresa Creagh (09/06/11): I was a little apprehensive when I began reading The Help, since it had come so highly recommended. It is the rare book that lives up to its hype. But fortunately, this book did. Luckily I had a lot of time to devote to reading it because I could not put it down. I loved the characters and the way the author intertwined history into the plot. Even though you could guess what would happen much of the time it was not overly predictable and did not impede one's enjoyment of the story. The author is a great writer who captured each of the three characters through their narration of the story. I was sad to reach the end of the book but this is one movie version of a book I definitely plan on seeing.
Rating: *****

Chris Mehling: I just finished this book. (I am a slow reader!) I loved it! It was the kind of book that makes you sad to see the story come to an end. I even went back and re-read some portions. I too loved the characters, even the wicked ones, as they came to life from the pages. I felt a connection to Aibileen and Minny as my grandmother was a housekeeper (and her mother was named Minnie!) in the 60's and 70's for the "rich" folk in my home town in Toledo. She didn't drive and would ride the bus and walk to the homes she cleaned. Although she was treated well by her employers, she was also uneducated and worked hard as a young widow and raised my four young cousins after their Mother died suddenly. I can't wait for this story to come to the big screen!
Rating: *****

Kim Sisto Robinson: I do not have enough adjectives to describe this glittering jewel of a book, so I shall begin with three: Exquisite Amazing Ass-Kicking.

Three narratives: Skeeter, Aibileen, and Minny. Each woman describing the treatment of blacks in Mississippi (1962), each one desiring to make a difference...change the way things have always been. "All my life I'd been told what to believe about politics, coloreds, being a girl. But with Constantine's thumb pressed in my hand, I realized I actually had a choice in what I could believe." The Help

Kathryn Stockett s voice is so delectable that the readers will find themselves drenched inside a world they want to drown in and desperately want to transform. It is hard to believe that only 40 years ago --blacks in America were utilizing outside toilets, different drinking fountains, sitting in the back of the bus, and looking after white families babies. What a horrifying misfortune for all of humanity.

The Help is destined to become a classic along with To Kill a Mockingbird. I did not want to turn the last page. I was like, I am going to miss all of the women who have become my girlfriends! I wanted to stay with Skeeter, Aibileen, and Minny forever. This book is about the power of females coming together to revolutionize the world. I wanted to be one of those females!
Rating: *****

Hadriane Kalfus: "The Help" is the first book in a while that grabbed my attention immediately. It is very well written and a wonderful narrative about the south during turbulent times. The story focuses on upper class white families and their black help in a small southern town. This book is a great achievement for an author with many books to her credit, let alone an author like Kathryn Stockett with only this one. Her attention to detail about the south during the 60's is remarkable. You get to meet all the women and learn their stories from their perspective. You begin to see the times very differently. "The Help" touches on the courage of the black women and the insensitivity of their employers, who don't have a clue that this servitude is wrong --- they are just a product of southern mores handed down from generation to generation. It also tells the story of a young white girl growing up amidst this culture and how she helps change the lives of The Help. I recommend this book as a great story and as an education of an era, not so long ago.
Rating: *****

Wanda Cohen: This book proves once again that if you are a gifted writer it doesn't matter if it's your first book or your twenty first. The Help is amazing in it's reflection of Kathryn's writing skills and also in her ability to give fiction such honesty that it reads like fact. I fell in love with Skeeter and Aibileen, two of the main characters. They walked within their community and it's rules until those rules didn't fit them anymore. They became warriors in their own quiet, decisive way by telling the truth and crossing the invisible lines that not only separated the haves from the have nots but mostly the whites from the blacks in a small town in Mississippi, in 1962. I recognized Skeeter's Mother in all her flaws and backward way of thinking. She was so disappointed in Skeeter when all she got at college was a piece of paper, but not a husband. It's hard to believe that this could be a page turner but it is. You want to find out what happens next to these courageous women.

I felt humbled by their courage. I felt humiliated by the belief systems held as truth without foundation or merit. A book that can make you feel is a great book. Thank you for reviewing this book and encouraging me to read it because I might not have picked it up otherwise.
Rating: *****

Debbie Weiss: Over Labor Day weekend, I attended the Decatur Book Festival. One of the sessions featured Kathryn Stockett on a panel with two other southern writers. I was surprised to see how young the author was. She was a delightful panelist who briefly discussed the topic of her book and read a few passages. She indicated that she was living in New York City when she wrote the book, but used her experiences of growing up in Mississippi to create the characters and story lines in the book.

Each chapter of "The Help" was narrated by a character in the book so the reader is able to really get into the minds of the people about which the novel revolved. It was extremely interesting to see the world through the eyes of the black domestics, whose lives were spent caring for other people's children. Even though these women may have had ill feelings toward their adult employers, their love and devotion for the white children was sincere and devoted. On the other hand, it was just as illuminating to see the world through Skeeter's eyes, a young white woman of privilege who was trying to tell the story of the culture of segregation in the 1960's south.  It was difficult for me to put this book down and I highly recommend it to everyone.

An interesting piece of information --- Ms. Stockett indicated that "The Help" was rejected by 45 different publishers and she was not sure that it would ever make its way into print. I believe she indicated that she has sold the movie rights already. It appears that her persistence paid off in this situation.
Rating: *****

Dera Williams: The astounding singer, Nina Simone wrote the song, Mississippi Goddam in 1964 in response to the merciless 1963 killing of civil rights leader, Medgar Evers in Jackson, Mississippi. The state of Mississippi, along with Alabama, was among the most egregious, hard-core, racist, states of the Union. I had heard of The Help by Kathryn Stockett, herself a native Mississippian from reviews and word of mouth. In this work of fiction set in 1963 and 1964, Stockett explores the complex relationship of black help, maids, or domestic servants and their white employers in Jackson.

Skeeter, a young woman, just out of college and a budding journalist, comes home and discovers her beloved maid, Constantine, is gone and nobody can explain to her satisfaction what happened to her. In her search for Constantine, Skeeter looks hard at the imbalance in the lives of southern whites and the black people who serve them, some who live in extreme poverty. In a challenge from a New York editor to find something to write about that excites her, Skeeter decides to write a book, interviewing the black maids of her peers. In The Help, the black maid/Miss Ann relationship is a convoluted union. It is also a symbiotic relationship; each needs the other. The white employers need someone to fix their meals, clean their house, wash their clothes and raise their children and the black domestic workers need employment to pay rent, buy food and other necessities of life. But I as an African American, who was southern born and California raised, question the need for these women to need maid service eight to twelve hours a day, six days a week? My mother, southern born and raised explained that this was tradition, historical, no doubt a holdover from slavery. Some of white families were no better off than black families such as Mom's family who owned their land; however, they hired black women, many of them from sharecropper families, to wash their clothes.

It is my love of southern literature that I was able to read this book that is getting many rave reviews by critics. I, a writer, family historian, and keeper of southern stories, appreciates a well-written, good story and Stockett is a good storyteller. When one of my sister reviewers became immediately offended by the book content and the dialect of the mostly uneducated black women, I was eager to read and see for myself. There were many uncomfortable moments, as I expected there would be, but all in all, the cumulative value of the book is an admirable contribution to the tomes of the new southern literature. If anything, this book opens up the dialogue, which has already begun-- if the discussions online and on blogs are any indication, between black women; southern born and northern born, and with white women, especially those southern born and raised, and presents an opportunity to talk about this elephant in the middle of the room in this Obama era. Maybe black women and white women, and all women can come together in sisterhood now that the stigma of segregation no longer exists--- oh black women will still be working in white homes, and there is still an unequal balance of privilege and poverty; but maybe those who are privileged will look to those who are not, as human beings with the same desires and sensitivities as they.
Rating: ****

Gwendolyn Waring: "The Help" is a poignantly told story of the interaction of the lives of black maids of Jackson, MS and the white women who hired them. I listened to the story on my ipod. The actors/readers did an amazing job of drawing you into each life. As I listened to the stories, I caught myself remembering my own grandmother who "cleaned house for white folks." And the stories of my great aunt about her "Madam," as she called her white employer. I am glad that Ms. Stockett wrote about these relationships, all of which were not bad. My only regret was that I never valued my grandmother's experiences enough to ask her about her treatment and tell her story. I am glad that "The Help" sheds some light on the experiences of those like my grandmother and great aunt. I feel that their stories are somehow represented even though they worked in NY.
Rating: ****

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