I didn’t think I was going to like The Help, Kathryn Stockett’s first and astoundingly well-reviewed novel. It was released awhile ago, made its way to the bestseller lists, hit number one in the NYT, and has now been written into a movie. When there is that much hype around something, I just tend to set my expectations low; and when something is so excitedly accepted by the general public, I prepare for a simple read.
It’s nice to be pleasantly surprised.
First, The Help is a refreshingly original story. The main plot throws off romance, selfishness, and adventure for something of importance—and yet the book contains elements of romance, selfishness, and adventure anyway. It is about a young white girl, Skeeter, and her dreams of becoming a writer, but also her conscience that tells her something must change in her 1960s Mississippi hometown.
Skeeter rejects the society in which she was raised, losing friends, love, and family approval to help black maids and further the civil rights movement beginning to stir in America at that time. She sets to writing their stories—their real stories, told from their perspective—and the truth about the white families for whom they work.
The story also is complex. There are three narrators: Skeeter, and two of the maids, Aibileen and Minny. Every few chapters, as the storytellers take their turns, new bits of back-story and personality are revealed to create a robust plot. I found myself drawn deeply into the lives of these three women as I learned about their character, their ambition, and their hope to see change in their community.
Aside from a story that is new and a story that is deep, The Help also is a story that resolves. When the book ended, I of course wanted to keep following the lives of these characters that I’d learned to love; but I was satisfied. And for me that is one of the most important elements of a good book.