Saturday, March 3, 2012

CBR4 Review #2 - The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Like Bossypants, it's been several weeks since I finished reading The Help, so my impressions of the book have faded a bit; and therefore, I expect that this review won't be as in-depth as it might otherwise have been.

I believe that I was supposed to hate The Help, as I have heard accusations of it being racist flying fast and furious. But I didn't (hate it or find it racist). I genuinely enjoyed it. And I'll tell you why: The book was engrossing; I had a hard time putting it down. I wanted to know what was going to happen next. I worried about the main characters, Aibileen, Minny, and Skeeter. I actually brought this book to work and read it on my lunch hour (honestly, well past my lunch 45 minutes). I can't remember the last time I brought a book to work to read during lunch. It's literally been years. I found it that engaging.

I assume that the accusations of racism come from the impression that others have had that the book is about a white woman saving the day for black domestic workers. That's not how I read the story. I think given what was going on in the 60s, it makes sense that a young white woman would start to open her eyes to what was going on around her and would want to do something. I think the book clearly portrayed that the greatest risk was to the black women whose stories Skeeter was recording.

One of the things that I think is good about the popularity that this book has experienced, is that it means that people are actually talking and thinking about racism. And it may well be that some folks are walking away from this book patting themselves on the back for not being racists and thinking that since, in many ways, things aren't as bad now as they were only a few decades ago, it means that, as a country, we're in good shape on the racism front. But I'm guessing that there are plenty of other people who, while appreciating the distance that we have come since then, still recognize that there is a lot of work yet to be done. I think it's good that this book has reminded folks of the horrors of Jim Crow laws and how they were felt in both obvious and subtle ways. It's important to remember the insidiousness and pervasiveness of racism in law and practice and how it was used to terrorize a community of people.

Something that I thought that the book did well, was to present the nuances of black and white relations in the South in the 60s. This was no Uncle Tom's Cabin. How individual blacks and whites interacted with each other was complicated and Kathryn Stockett showed that. Similarly, she didn't present African Americans as being monolithic on the issue of the Civil Rights Movement, specifically, different members of the community had different perspectives on what steps to take and how quickly to move on the process. I appreciated these sorts of details.

I did not find the book to be perfect. I did have a problem with the fact that Aibileen and Minny's chapters were written in dialect. I found that unnecessary and completely off-putting. And I wish that Kathryn Stockett had written their chapters in same way she wrote Skeeter's. Honestly, I'm not sure why her editor didn't call her out on it.

On the whole, though, I really liked this book. I found it captivating and I finished it quickly. I know that other people don't agree with me on it being a good book, but I think each person needs to read it to form her own opinion. So, I recommend it.