Bloggers Book Club: Review of The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Enter a vanished world: Jackson, Mississippi, 1962. Where black maids raise white children, but aren’t trusted not to steal the silver…….

That’s what we read ?on the back cover of The Help by Kathryn Stockett and that theme runs throughout the whole book as we read about white women who are trying to save face with their friends by trying to afford a black maid, trying to keep up with the Joneses by installing a separate toilet for their black maid because of the different and harmful germs they allegedly carry, the incessant non-trust of their black maids in terms of theft and yet the irony of putting complete trust in them to rear their children is shouting loudly and furiously from the pages. The black maids do everything – cooking, cleaning (and yes, miraculously, they don’t spread any germs while cleaning a white person’s bathroom!), looking after young children, grocery shopping and more.

The plot centres around 3 main characters, Skeeter, a young white unmarried woman whose mother is desperate to marry her off and her best friends are both mothers and try to matchmake her too. ?Desperate to get into the world of journalism and publishing, she is given a challenge (by a New York publisher) of writing about something different and together with two maids who have worked for her friends, in collaboration with other maids, they compile a book showing what life is like for black maids, using true stories. It is planned that the book will be anonymous and there is worry all around regarding what will happen to them if they are discovered. That threat is reinforced as we are told about black men shot and/or tortured for challenging white rule, by using ‘white toilets’, for theft of small jewellry items, for stepping over the boundary at all.

One of the best bits of the book was the use of the toilets as a metaphor for how the whites were feeling increasingly threatened by stories of equality up north and how these white women were doing their utmost to remain supreme within their own homes and neighbourhoods.

Minny is a strong character, with a mouth that gets her into trouble with her white employers and she is often fired. It is evident that everyone needs to be employed, otherwise they just can’t survive financially. The only person she can’t stand up to is her husband, who hits her except when she is pregnant. Her newest employer who comes from a very poor white area, seems unaware of the ‘white way’ of treating her servant and Minny is somewhat surprised and irritated by the way she expects them to eat lunch together. Yet, when she complains to others about her new employer, we realise just how poorly she has been treated by others – from descriptions of having to eat her lunch outside even when it is snowing.

Aibileen is raising her seventeenth white child, she always leaves when the child becomes old enough to recognise there is a difference, a difference that is enforced by the parents. Her own son died in a work accident and she mourns him continually yet she gets on with life.

It is a well written book and I thoroughly enjoyed it. By the sound of the response to the film, it has gained huge acclaim too. However, I was a little uncomfortable while reading it. Can a white author really understand and communicate what blacks experienced in the 1960s (not to mention before that)? I can’t remember which black writer said that black women are doubly unenfranchised (was it Maya Angelou?) – from their colour and by their sex and that white women can’t possibly understand the point of view of a black woman. Stockett does touch on that in her ending, she points out that as a child, she thought their maid was lucky to have them as her employers, that she considered them to be her children, ?and how she wishes she had asked her how she felt to be black in 1960s Mississippi. Stockett admits that no white writer can truly understand what it felt to be a black woman back then but as she says so eloquently, it is the trying to understand that is vital to our humanity.

A good book – do read it before you go to see the film 🙂

Do head over to read the other reviewers of the books, here’s the links to their blogs Jenny?,?Lily? ,Marie,??Val,?,?Catherine,?Jenny,?SusanC, Elaine?and?Dee.

Next month’s book is Dracula by ?Bram Stoker.

Get your book review published -The Irish County Living supplement of the Farmers Journal is starting a book club of sorts. ?They are inviting readers to contact Ciara and she will send 2 people each month a book to review. You’ll have 3 weeks to read the book and review it. ?(I’m awaiting mine – apparently it is a historical ficition – can’t wait) They will also be posting a list of the books so you can read along with them on their reading list if you like. If you are interested, just email Ciara at cokelly[at] to be part of the reading club.

13 thoughts on “Bloggers Book Club: Review of The Help by Kathryn Stockett

  • Pingback: The Help – Kathryn Stockett « Magnumlady's Blog

  • magnumlady

    Great review Lorna. I read the book and saw the film. I really enjoyed (if that’s the right word) both of them.
    Although the actress who played Minny in the film really bought her to life and injected humour into it.

  • Jennifer

    I read that book over the summer and really found it to be quite good. The book is far better than the movie, in my mind anyway. I think that the fact that a white women is attempting to understand goes along way for sure. Growing up we learned about the Underground Railway to Canada. A movement helping to smuggle black people into Canada to free them from slavery. It is awful how people can treat one another. Thanks for the lovely review!

    • Lorna

      I always find the book to be better than the movie and never cease to be amazed by how much more powerful our imaginations are than the big screen. I’ll be interested in seeing the film though. I really enjoyed the book, read it in a couple of days which proves I enjoyed it. Books I don’t like can take a month!

  • Dee Sewell

    Really enjoyed your review Lorna and the points you made about understanding. It made me wonder if your discomfort came more from the topic rather than the author – do we feel the same when a woman writes as a man for example (can’t think of any examples typically!)? However, as you say it’s the “trying to understand…..” that’s the key and a great line to end with.

    • Lorna

      Good point Dee, I guess the example I think of re a woman writing as a man is George Elliott but they were very different times. I guess it is the topic – can a white woman really understand the effects of racism on a black woman? I remember how it felt in the UK in the early 1990s, I was fine until I opened my mouth and then everyone knew I was Irish and seemed to wonder if I was a member of the IRA and that would only have been a fraction of the reaction black people got in the 60s. But Stockett did address it so she was conscious of it too – I wonder though, how different the book would have been if the same topic/storyline had been written by a black woman? I’ll be interested in seeing the film having read the book now.

  • speltforchoiceblog

    Lorna great review, the farmers journal sounds a really interesting. I’m in a club at the minute at I’m hard pushed to get that finished otherwise would love to join in on it (assuming a townie could join!!)

    • Lorna

      I think anyone can join and re the farmers journal, the reviewing for the paper would just be a one off so do get in touch with Ciara if you are interested.

  • jan c.

    I live in the U.S. and I remember visiting my grandparents in Texas when I was a young child. We lived in a state further west where segregation wasn’t much practiced as it was in the South. The highlight of those hot summer days was to go swimming at the public pool. I remember seeing black children looking longingly at the pool and swimmers through a wire fence and told my dad that it was too bad they didn’t have the money to swim. I’ll never forget him telling me that it wasn’t a matter of money, but that they weren’t allowed to swim with white children. They had to wait until the last 2 weeks of the summer. I was very young, but I felt the wrongness of it even then. I really enjoyed reading The Help; it brought back memories of those summers-one town actually cemented in their pool rather than bow to integrated swimming. We have at least come some way towards treating others as we ought, but we still have a long way to go.

    • Lorna

      It just shows how determined some were to continue the segregation doesn’t it and books like this do highlight how unjust it was then and how unjust it still can be at times. Ireland can be a very racist place still at times too unfortunately – a friend of mine teaches in a local secondary school and has heard comments against Protestants, Polish and much more



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