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The Helpby Kathryn Stockett
Kathryn Stockett's characters aren't just memorable — they're the kind you start to miss the minute you turn the last page. Set in Mississippi in 1962, they speak from a world careening toward great and long-overdue change, in voices resonating with frustration, grief, humor, and hope.
"In her tale of an aspiring white writer in 1960s Mississippi who decides to secretly compile the untold stories of black domestic workers, Kathryn Stockett attempts to work out her own complicated feelings about race relations in her native South. She throws herself into the attempt with gusto and gravitas, a risk that pays off to a point: The Help is buoyant in its most sober moments, occasionally insightful. Skeeter Phelan is a misfit, a 24-year-old college grad growing uneasy with the social hierarchies of home; the two black women who risk their lives and livelihoods to help collect the interviews she seeks, Aibileen and Minny, are sympathetically if somewhat predictably drawn. Yet the buoyancy often undermines the book's more serious intentions; ultimately, The Help can't decide if it's modern Faulkner or pop lit with some racial lessons thrown in for fiber." Erin Aubry Kaplan, Ms. magazine (read the entire Ms. review)
Synopses & Reviews
Three ordinary women are about to take one extraordinary step.
Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.
Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.
Minny, Aibileen's best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobodyas business, but she can't mind her tongue, so she's lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.
Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.
In pitch-perfect voices, Kathryn Stockett creates three extraordinary women whose determination to start a movement of their own forever changes a town, and the way women — mothers, daughters, caregivers, friends — view one another. A deeply moving novel filled with poignancy, humor, and hope, The Help is a timeless and universal story about the lines we abide by, and the ones we don't.
"What perfect timing for this optimistic, uplifting debut novel (and maiden publication of Amy Einhorn's new imprint) set during the nascent civil rights movement in Jackson, Miss., where black women were trusted to raise white children but not to polish the household silver. Eugenia 'Skeeter' Phelan is just home from college in 1962, and, anxious to become a writer, is advised to hone her chops by writing 'about what disturbs you.' The budding social activist begins to collect the stories of the black women on whom the country club sets relies — and mistrusts — enlisting the help of Aibileen, a maid who's raised 17 children, and Aibileen's best friend Minny, who's found herself unemployed more than a few times after mouthing off to her white employers. The book Skeeter puts together based on their stories is scathing and shocking, bringing pride and hope to the black community, while giving Skeeter the courage to break down her personal boundaries and pursue her dreams. Assured and layered, full of heart and history, this one has bestseller written all over it." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Southern whites' guilt for not expressing gratitude to the black maids who raised them threatens to become a familiar refrain. But don't tell Kathryn Stockett because her first novel is a nuanced variation on the theme that strikes every note with authenticity. In a page-turner that brings new resonance to the moral issues involved, she spins a story of social awakening as seen from both sides of the... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) American racial divide. Newly graduated from Ole Miss with a degree in English but neither an engagement ring nor a steady boyfriend, Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan returns to her parents' cotton farm in Jackson. Although it's 1962, during the early years of the civil rights movement, she is largely unaware of the tensions gathering around her town. Skeeter is in some ways an outsider. Her friends, bridge partners and fellow members of the Junior League are married. Most subscribe to the racist attitudes of the era, mistreating and despising the black maids whom they count on to raise their children. Skeeter is not racist, but she is naive and unwittingly patronizing. When her best friend makes a political issue of not allowing the "help" to use the toilets in their employers' houses, she decides to write a book in which the community's maids — their names disguised — talk about their experiences. Fear of discovery and retribution at first keep the maids from complying, but a stalwart woman named Aibileen, who has raised and nurtured 17 white children, and her friend Minny, who keeps losing jobs because she talks back when insulted and abused, sign on with Skeeter's risky project, and eventually 10 others follow. Aibileen and Minny share the narration with Skeeter, and one of Stockett's accomplishments is reproducing African American vernacular and racy humor without resorting to stilted dialogue. She unsparingly delineates the conditions of black servitude a century after the Civil War. The murders of Medgar Evers and Martin Luther King Jr. are seen through African American eyes, but go largely unobserved by the white community. Meanwhile, a room "full of cake-eating, Tab-drinking, cigarette-smoking women" pretentiously plan a fundraiser for the "Poor Starving Children of Africa." In general, Stockett doesn't sledgehammer her ironies, though she skirts caricature with a "white trash" woman who has married into an old Jackson family. Yet even this character is portrayed with the compassion and humor that keep the novel levitating above its serious theme. Reviewed by Sybil Steinberg, who was Forecasts editor of Publishers Weekly, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
"It's graceful and real, a compulsively readable story of three women who watch the Mississippi ground shifting beneath their feet as the words of men like Martin Luther King Jr. and Bob Dylan pervade their genteel town. When folks at your book club wonder what to read next month, go on and pitch this wholly satisfying novel with confidence. A-" Entertainment Weekly
"[A] wise, poignant novel....You'll catch yourself cheering out loud." People magazine
"[A] story with heart and hope....A good old fashioned novel" New York Daily News
"I love The Help. Kathryn Stockett has given us glorious characters and a powerful, truth-filled story. Abilene, Minny and Skeeter, show that people from this troubled time came together despite their differences and that ordinary women can be heroic." Jill Conner Browne, author of The Sweet Potato Queens series
"The Help by Kathryn Stockett is a story that made me weep as I rejoiced for each of humanity's small but steady triumphs over hate and fear. I will never forget this wonderful book." Dorothea Benton Frank
"A wonderful book. A compelling and comically poignant tale about three women, and a time and a place that is in many ways very much still with us." Beth Henley, playwright of Crimes of the Heart
"Lush, original, and poignant, Kathryn Stockett has written a wondrous novel. You will be swept away as they work, play, and love during a time when possibilities for women were few but their dreams of the future were limitless. A glorious read." Adriana Trigiani, author of Lucia, Lucia
"A magical novel. Heartbreaking and oh so true, the voices of these characters, their lives and struggles will stay with you long after you reluctantly come to the end." Robert Hicks, author of The Widow of the South
"This heartbreaking story is a stunning debut from a gifted talent." Atlanta Journal
"This book was sitting on my desk and everyone kept coming in and when they'd see it they'd gush about it, 'I love this book.' So, I brought it home and it didn't disappoint. It's very much a book like you would imagine Oprah would pick for her book club. Set in the early sixties, it's about female friendship and race relations and it's heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time." John Searles, The Today Show
"Set in the rural South of the 1960s, The Help is a startling, resonant portrait of the intertwined lives of women on opposite sides of the racial divide. Stockett's many gifts — a keen eye for character, a wicked sense of humor, the perfect timing of a natural born storyteller — shine as she evokes a time and place when black women were expected to help raise white babies, and yet could not use the same bathroom as their employers. Her characters, both white and black, are so fully fleshed they practically breathe — no stock villains or pious heroines here. I'm becoming an evangelist for The Help. Don't miss this wise and astonishing debut." Joshilyn Jackson, author of Gods in Alabama
In Jackson, Mississippi, in 1962, there are lines that are not crossed. With the civil rights movement exploding all around them, three women start a movement of their own, forever changing a town and the way women — black and white, mothers and daughters — view one another.
About the Author
Kathryn Stockett was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi. After graduating from the University of Alabama with a degree in English and Creative Writing, she moved to New York City where she worked in magazine publishing and marketing for nine years. She currently lives in Atlanta with her husband and daughter. Kathryn Stockett's debut novel, The Help, is a New York Times bestseller.
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