Caroline’s review of The Help > Likes and Comments

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message 1: by Marie (new)

Marie Caroline - You articulated my feelings about The Help perfectly. Frankly, I've been so surprised by the raving reviews for this book, which I thought was not well-written or very highly evolved, that I had to check to see if there was ANYone out there that felt as I did. We sure are in a minority, aren't we???


message 2: by Caroline (new)

Caroline Marie - Yes!! I have just been baffled by the praise for this book. Genuinely baffled - and then slightly saddened, because race relations in America is a very difficult, emotional subject, and this book seems to simplify it to such a degree that it hardly "moves the ball forward" at all. Thanks for your message - it's comforting to know there are at least two of like mind out there!


message 3: by Marie (new)

Marie Kathleen wrote: "Thank you both for articulating so well my feelings about this book! I'm leading a book club discussion about it tomorrow and have been trying to find some similar opinions ---but I keep scrolling..."

Kathleen - I would be interested in hearing the general response to the book from your group. My book club has chosen it as well, but lucky for me I have until January to practice biting my tongue, as I have yet to discover a refined way of saying "I really hated this book!" :)


message 4: by Ann (new)

Ann Give it another try.


message 5: by Marie (new)

Marie I don't really think giving it another try is going to make me enjoy it any more the 2nd time around and I'm content to let The Help live on the list of books that I didn't care for. One of the reasons I love belonging to a book club is exactly this reason...each person has their own views, likes and dislikes, and I don't expect others to like every book that I do. I'm glad I read it though, as I am almost every book, and the discussions that follow are what make it interesting!


message 6: by Heather (new)

Heather I really enjoyed your review of this...I'm only about halfway through this book and I'm left feeling the same way. It just feels to simplified and stereotypical...it just doesn't feel genuine. My book club is discussing this on Tuesday and so far everyone is loving it so I'm looking for ways to articulate why I'm not loving it! So glad I found your review!


message 7: by Caroline (new)

Caroline Kathleen & Heather -- thanks so much for your messages. I would love to hear about the discussion each of your respective book groups has about the book... please report back!


message 8: by Heather (new)

Heather Kathleen,
Stupendous review and it's giving me so many ideas on how to articulate what I'm feeling about this book.


message 9: by Danielle (new)

Danielle I wonder if any of these commenters has ever lived in Mississippi or know how things truly are here. I suspect not. These reactions are not surprising, since most of the country thinks we don't have a clue about how the world works. How little you all know about us.


message 10: by Heather (new)

Heather Yikes Danielle,
I'm sorry. I don't mean to come across that way. I have never lived in the South so I honestly can't say. I just felt that it wasn't as fleshed out as I was hoping, but that doesn't mean I don't feel that the book was sincere or that it didn't have something to say or that those things do/didn't happen. But I respect those that love this book and I hope you can respect me for how this book made me feel whether or not I've experienced Mississippi, the South, etc. I still feel that all points and observations and feelings are valid, that's what makes us unique. Thanks for your comment.


message 11: by Danielle (new)

Danielle Your original review says that you think it's "stereotypical" and that the author has an "undeveloped" sense of race. Your message is easy to figure out. Again I would say to you that you know nothing about Mississippi and missed a beautiful opportunity to learn. Instead of being open and learning from someone who knows her source, you judged her. Instead of accepting that what she wrote was true for thousands of people, you imply that her characters are not "genuine". Gotcha, loud and clear.


message 12: by Danielle (new)

Danielle By the way, Heather, in case you missed it, my original comment, and the follow-up, was not to you. It was to the review's original writer.


message 13: by Danielle (new)

Danielle The author of that "review" says she hasn't even read the book. Stay classy, Jezebel.


message 14: by Cathy (new)

Cathy in my opinion, this review is spot on:
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/19/boo...


message 15: by Matt (new)

Matt I haven't read it, but it doesn't do much to advance dialogue on race relations by invalidating someone else's views on them, especially in a work of loosely historical fiction. If you don't like the book, fine. But the Jezebel writer's view doesn't do much to advance the dialogue. More of a shouting down those whose views she considers not nuanced or inciteful enough.


message 16: by Hippichik1961 (new)

Hippichik1961 I read this book last year & enjoyed it front to back. I must agree with Danielle that the review author must have never visited the South. The speech patterns in this book were authentic for the characters. And, believe it or not, despite the hot issue of racism in the 60's, there were still friendships between folks of differing ethnic backgrounds. And in the 60's, lots of peeps were willing to show those friendships in public.
My family members were definitely from an older generation that did have prejudicial & racist views. My sister & I, being raised in the 60's & 70's, had several close friendships with those of a different ethnic background, despite family members displeasure.
We are all entitled to our own opinion of this book, but we also need to consider the mentality & tone of the times. Mixed race friendships, while not an everyday thing, were not that rare in this setting.


message 17: by Ms-read-a-lot (new)

Ms-read-a-lot Ditto. I'm black and read the book because of the press. I was sad because the author missed out on the real voice of blacks at that time. Then I read that she was raised by black help and I rolled my eyes. She missed the boat. Didn't care for the book too much.


message 18: by Steven (new)

Steven I'm only on the second chapter and I'm already having this uneasy feeling that the author didnt/doesnt understand what being black during the 1960s meant.


message 19: by Danielle (new)

Danielle Steven wrote: "I'm only on the second chapter and I'm already having this uneasy feeling that the author didnt/doesnt understand what being black during the 1960s meant."

I see you're from the Bronx. The author is from the city she's writing about (as am I). I think she knows more than you and other detractors in this thread give her credit for.


message 20: by Samantha (new)

Samantha Jodie I am pretty sure this book is close to autobiographical. It is more historical fiction than a novel.


message 21: by Brandi (new)

Brandi I haven't read the book yet and I appreciate your thoughts. However, I think that a book has the ability to make us uncomfortable because the voice of the author is authentic. Authentic to their time, place, society, and mental picture.


message 22: by Mare (new)

Mare agreed -- the tone seems to be "all black people are good/all white people are bad. except white people like skeeter." It's never this simple. And as a minority in my own neighborhood, I sorta don't appreciate this message.


message 23: by Mare (new)

Mare ps: pretty angry article. pretty sure I don't like *her.*


message 24: by Caroline (new)

Caroline Hi All! Thanks to each of you who have offered comment on or "liked" my review. I am always surprised when anyone reads these things at all - you write a review and hit "save" and it just goes off into the ether and you wonder if it has any effect. Thank you for taking the time to read my review and to offer comment - good and bad - or hit "like".

To those that disagreed with my review... I thank you for your perspective and for your willingness to participate in a discussion about reading and about an important topic in the history of our collective consciousness as Americans. One of the most important things a book can do is to spark discussion and conversation among people so that we can learn from each other and, hopefully, grow from the experience.

While I appreciate that others may feel differently, I stand by my review. I understand some feel that my criticism stems from not being able to understand the culture and customs of the American South; however, I feel the book and the author sought to explore larger concepts than just a picture portrait of a time and place - I think she very ambitiously sought to address the larger issues of race and class in the south, and how it has affected generations of women - white and black. I think she was also hoping to express her hopes for race relations and her feeling that things could evolve to a better place. Those are all admirable ambitions, particularly for a writer.

And, while I applaud her ambition, bravery and effort - it is not easy to talk about race, even now - I feel she missed the mark. I feel she relied too heavily on her personal perspective and personal history, to a point where she idealized it, and as a result missed the mark in trying to craft a clear and true voice for her African American characters.

I have read many different authors - white and black, male and female - whose life experience was formed in the American South. I appreciate them all. I do not think you need to be from a place to have an appreciation for it or be able to offer criticism of authors who come from that place.

My review was not a criticism of the South or Mississippi - it was my views of the book. And, it is what it is.

Thanks again for all who commented - I do appreciate it, and think it is marvelous when smart people get a chance to exchange ideas. Thank you!


message 25: by Caroline (new)

Caroline Hello Again! One last thing… I do not think the author was not being genuine or honest in her perspective of the South. Obviously, as a native southerner, she has real world experience with the kinds of events she portrays in her book. I simply found her interpretation of African Americans to be very flat. Their reactions did not seem real to me - they seemed like idealized, naive characterizations, developed and written by someone who may be all too aware of the challenges of segregation, but may not have truly internalized the pain and suffering that segregation caused an entire race of people.

I don't live in the South. But I do know that there were African American women who worked in the homes of white people as house keepers and nannies. I have read and come to understand that these African American women often did come to love the white children they cared for as if they were their own children. But I also believe those women were very conflicted on a regular basis, having to leave their own families day after day, whether their own children were sick and in need of care or not, and go to care for the homes of their white employers because they had no other options for employment.

I don’t think Ms. Stockett didn’t offer HER honest view of the time – her voice and her perspective seems genuine. I simply do not feel the same authenticity when it comes to her African American characters.

I imagine this will only stir the pot, but so be it!


message 26: by S. (new)

S.  D. Cathy, Thank you. You took the word right out of my mouth. But I still have more to add.

What I'd like to know is how many of the people claiming the voices of these women to not be authentic is actually black or grew up where blacks were/are subject to discrimination. As a black woman from the south and with roots in Mississippi, Civil Rights, and the slave trade, I can tell you that these are true voices. My grandmothers and great aunts speak and carry themselves like these women. They were these women. I don't mind persons of another race discussing race relations, but I do mind mind people talking out of their asses. how can you judge what is true when you don't know the truth of it yourself.

And no one is calling black people all good and white people all bad. It was the situations and the circumstances that were bad. If you went to the town where my grandmother was born Mississippi today, you would think you'd stepped back in time. Even my home town of St. Louis is still mostly segregated. I've been apart of a desegregation program and there's nothing like someone telling you that you only got to a place because of your color to help you hone your true voice.


message 27: by Caroline (new)

Caroline A genuine question - not looking to pick a fight: can a person understand a situation or a culture or a time in history if they are from another place and time? And thus, can only a person who is from a time and place, or has ties to a time and place, offer actual comment or perspective?

Again, I am not looking to pick a fight, I am looking to understand, as the responses to my postings seem to carry with them some very strong and genuine emotions, which means it has struck a chord.

Along those same lines, can an individual raised in the south never truly understand The Great Gatsby? Can anyone who is not a native Long Islander truly appreciate the story and it's meaning?


message 28: by Lyn (new)

Lyn Monica Thank You. I agree with you very much!!! I truly dislike this book.


message 29: by Jodie (new)

Jodie Good gracious people, it's a book! Some will like it, some won't. Just like the movie coming out, some will like it, some won't! What's surprising to me though is how quick we are to slam others when their opinions are different than ours.


message 30: by Gina (new)

Gina people, it's historical fiction. it's supposed to capture the voices of that time and there was nothing inappropriate about the message of this book.


message 31: by Belinda (new)

Belinda To the comments that the book presented all black as good and all white except people like skeeter as bad - what about Leroy the wife beater? And Stuart's Dad seems to have a different view of the segregation but is constrained by his political allegiances from speaking up. Also the fact that people like Celia and Lou-Ann were certain they would never fire Minny and Louvenia shows something else as well. I don't profess to knowing anything much about these times and race relations and the book raised my mind to it abs made me think. Whether every aspect was spot on or not, that has to be a good outcome


message 32: by Kathie (new)

Kathie Thank you! This book made me very uncomfortable too, and I've had difficulty articulating my feelings especially in the face of the rest of my book club that loved, loved, loved it. You summed up my feelings very well.


message 33: by Gina (new)

Gina hmm perhaps you are uncomfortable because you don't know how to face the harsh realities of that time in history, which still linger today...?


message 34: by Kathie (new)

Kathie ???

I'm uncomfortable with a book such as this one, about a particularly pivotal period in our history, that delves no deeper than than this one does, and still garners so many rave reviews. I kept waiting for more depth, more empathy. There is just so much unrealized potential in this story; it could have been so much more. I felt it never really broke free of chick-lit-feel-good-ness.

As to the racial issues dealt with (or not dealt with) in this book, no new ground is broken. Again, it could have been so much more. Opportunities squandered--too bad.


message 35: by Claire (new)

Claire Monahan Thank you for recommending James Baldwin. The Help, while entertaining, was like Sex and the City is to real-life relationships: it is just a fluffy novel on race relations, but offers no great, hardened words on the whole experience.

To this day, no author on the subject has moved me so greatly as James Baldwin. Readers who loved The Help really need to read his work, especially if learning more about race in America is a subject you want to explore. If you thought The Help was moving, you will seriously be blown away by his insight. It has struck with me ever since I first picked up his writing, and will continue to do so long after I even remember what The Help was ever about.


message 36: by Susie (new)

Susie Even though this book is about a difficult period in American history, and is about a very important topic, race relations, the book is written about some very ordinary people. The Civil Rights Movement affected everyone, but not all of them made huge breakthroughs and important steps forward. A lot of them, I daresay most of them, made baby steps forward. What this book said to me was that in a little place in suburbia where segregation was alive and well, there was a little underground subversion that required a lot of courage to undertake. The fact that they are just ordinary people and that their actions were not epic and ground breaking does not mean that they weren't heroic. I know it is a work of fiction, but in trying to analyse what the issue is about this book and the review, I think what might be important to remember is how something that we think is nothing could have meant death or GBH to those people in the 60's. I am a Canadian, so I REALLY have no idea what it was like to grow up in the south, but I was born in 1962 and I know that racism was alive and well where I grew up, and that black people couldn't behave as badly as I probably did and get away with it. It was a different time, and I felt the fear in the dialogue of every maid that was written.


message 37: by Madeline (new)

Madeline First of all Caroline you have probably never ever been to the south I was born there and raised my parents lived their too you obviously don't know what your talking about and as a local Mississippian I disagree with you largely and think maybe you should read the book over again and actually look at the words it was absolutely my favorite book I loved I think Kathryn stockett absolutely did an outstanding job and some people just can't acknowledge that and I'm deeply sorry for you.


message 38: by Blair (new)

Blair Herzig Thank You! This was exactly how I felt when trying to lusten to the audio. Very one dimensional and slightly offensive.


message 39: by Caroline (last edited Sep 03, 2011 08:59AM) (new)

Caroline @JodieM - thank you & agreed! I am also surprised at how quick we are to slam others when their opinions are different than our own. I have tried - I hope successfully - to be respectful of everyone's opinions, including those with differing opinions. If I have not been, or if I have offended inadvertently, I apologize. I hope we all – whether we agree or disagree – can be respectful and polite to each other. But some of the responses to my review have surprised me with how personal they seem... I didn't like the book folks, for the reasons stated in my review and subsequent comments. I am not planning on re-reading it. End of story.

And to that end... @Madeline - I say this with the greatest of respect, I do not need you to be deeply sorry for me. As I asked in one of my comments, must one be from the south to be able to have an understanding of it? I have read many different authors - white and black, male and female - whose life experience was formed in the American South. I appreciate them all. I do not think you need to be from a place to have an appreciation for it or be able to offer criticism of authors who come from that place. Having read and seen many interviews with her, I understand Ms. Stockett's words came from her experience and rang very true for her. My point was that they were limited, and that reading from a broader base of authors would offer a more complete picture of race in this country.

And, @Gina - I cannot speak for others, but I am not uncomfortable “because I don't know how to face the harsh realities of that time in history, which still linger today.” I am uncomfortable because I feel this book glosses over those realities. I have divulged, I think, very little about myself in my review and subsequent comments, other than I am not from the south. However, let me say that I minored in African American literature and drama in college, and as a result have read many accounts from many different time periods about the experience of being a minority in America. With that background, I felt this book was soft on the harsh realities of the experience of African American women working as domestics in the segregated south. As I have noted previously, in a comment to my review: “I have read and come to understand that these African American women [who worked as domestics in the homes of white families] often did come to love the white children they cared for as if they were their own children. But I also believe those women were very conflicted on a regular basis, having to leave their own families day after day, whether their own children were sick and in need of care or not, and go to care for the homes of their white employers because they had no other options for employment.” ….ultimately, I did not like the book. And, I know I am not alone in that. But, if you – the “collective” you – connected with the characters and with the story, that is o.k. too. I am not judging you - I am not even judging Ms. Stockett, as I know this is a very authentic portrayal of her own experience. But if left me unsettled for what I felt was left unsaid, and I didn’t like the book. Regardless, thank you to everyone – fans of The Help and non – for participating in this discussion. As I have also said before, I appreciate everyone’s perspective – whether it is like mine or not – and I appreciate everyone’s willingness to participate in a discussion about reading and about an incredibly important topic – race in America. One of the most important things a book can do is to spark discussion and conversation among people so that we can learn from each other and, hopefully, grow from the experience. Thank you to all for sharing.


message 40: by Caroline (new)

Caroline And, just to ask again: can a person understand a situation or a culture or a time in history if they are from another place and time? And thus, can only a person who is from a time and place, or has ties to a time and place, offer actual comment or perspective?

Along those same lines, can an individual raised in the south never truly understand The Great Gatsby? Can anyone who is not a native Long Islander from the 1920s truly appreciate the story and it's meaning?


message 41: by Caroline (new)

Caroline @Kathie & @Claire - thanks for your comments - I agree with a lot of what you say. @Susie - interesting. From that perspective, I can see how the ambition of this book makes an impact (e.g., from your comment "What this book said to me was that in a little place in suburbia where segregation was alive and well, there was a little underground subversion that required a lot of courage to undertake. The fact that they are just ordinary people and that their actions were not epic and ground breaking does not mean that they weren't heroic.") Agreed - that message is a good one.


message 42: by Beverly (new)

Beverly Mahle My goodness people can't anyone read a book for the simple enjoyment of reading? Yes, I do like to learn about various things while I'm reading but just because I've never been involved in a murder mystery doesn't mean I don't enjoy reading about them! I was raised in the south (Alabama). My parents ran a boarding house at a college so we had "hired help", as my parents called them, and they help to care for me. I was also "bused" -sent across town to a different school and I could never figure out why when there was a school around the corner. Needless to say, as I got older I figured it all out. I debated about getting this book but will now just to see how I personally feel about it and for the pure joy of reading, something I never try to overlook with any book! I have enjoyed your comments and they will be in the back of my mind as I read this book but I wonder if my life experiences won't influence my feeling more than the comments. I hope they do...


message 43: by Anjanette (new)

Anjanette I just have to add, I don't think it is the author has missed the boat on discussing race relations in this country. I don't believe that was every her intention. I think she was telling a story from a very specific point of view, she said as much in her final words of the book.
Whereas yours or any others opinion of not enjoying the book and being disappointed in the character development, so be it - it really isn't my concern. I enjoyed being able to have my response to the book be sharpened as I consider others opinions ( why I read reviews in the first place).
Having grown up in the south and spending every summer in Memphis/Mississippi, I can say that this under current of "not really addressing" the bigger issues and in a very under stated "life can be wrapped up with a nice bow" way is very authentic. It is part of what makes the south what it is, both endearing and infuriating.
If there was a single theme I would say it was in the stories told to Mae Mobley - it isn't what the sack looks like it is what is on the sack that matters.


message 44: by Mary Jane (new)

Mary Jane Rouse Did you actually read the book?


message 45: by Robin (new)

Robin I have not read this book, but if it's anything like the film, then it is bad for everyone!


message 46: by Caroline (new)

Caroline @Mary - not sure to whom your question is posed, but yes, I did read the book.


message 47: by Rhiannon (new)

Rhiannon Did you at least read about the author's own life story in how she came about writing the book?

She grew up having a maid that was black, named Demetrie, herself in Jackson, Mississipi. Then Demetrie died when Kathryn was 16. She wrote the book because if she could have talked to her maid, she would think it would have gone similar to the book. It's half true story, half fiction. Reading that made me appreciate the realism that was brought to the book with the events, the way things were worded and the context of how it really was back then.

I should know, I look at my mom's mother (ie - my late grandmother) and remember she had a maid who was black as well when my mother was growing up. So yeah the stuff in the book, it's close enough or dead on to what it was like growing up in the 60's as either black or white.

To those that had a hard time reading it because of how some of the words or wording came about: well that's how they talk in the deep south, even in this day and age, especially in Mississipi and Louisiana. I've heard it personally and I'm glad Kathryn decided to incorporate that into the book, because i could hear the accents in my head as I read the book.

Overall, I'm about to finish the book this week and can say that it's an amazing book so far.


message 48: by Caroline (last edited Sep 01, 2011 09:10AM) (new)

Caroline @Rhiannon - yes, I have read how Ms. Stockett came to write the book, about her background, and much of the commentary and other reviews about the book as well.

My concern wasn't that what the author portrayed wasn't real to her - emphasis on "to her." I think I have expressed respect for her perspective in my review and several of my follow up responses. My concern is that her view is a limited one, even if it is genuine. That doesn't make in less valid, less real, or less honest - I think Ms. Stockett was being all of those things and based her prose on experiences and emotions she has had in her life.

But I think the book presents a very limited view of the African American experience in the segregated south, which is why, in my original review, I suggested that readers also explore other authors such as Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, and Maya Angelou.


message 49: by Matt (new)

Matt Wow, Caroline, way to stir the pot! My comment is way back at #15 on the thread and I see you continue to get a lot of feedback. I've already spoken my point on your review (as someone who neither read the book nor grew up white or black in the South in the 1960's). My only further comment is to support your response to those who disagree with you.

Folks, Caroline (whom I know from school and I know her heart as well -- NO, not in THAT way!) wrote a review of the novel and expressed her feelings and reactions TO THE NOVEL. It's fiction, whether or not it's based on someone's personal experiences. She's not calling the author a bad person, or even a bad writer. She merely stated the reasons why the novel didn't resonate with her. Isn't that the entire purpose of writing a book review on one of these sites? As readers of Caroline's review, you're welcome to take her comments for what they are worth or ignore them, and certainly to disagree. I understand many people very much liked this book (my wife included) and may even relate to the subject matter. But why take Caroline's comments as personal? She doesn't know you and isn't speaking about you, just the same as you don't know her. So why not explain the reasons that you disagree without the personal attacks. Sheesh! As many have said to Caroline, it's just a book. So, if that's all it is, then ease up. But acknowledge too, if you disagree with Caroline, that since the author chose to write about the subject of race relations, she opened the door to people who would question her thematic approach. There is no "right or wrong" on people's perspective on race relations. It's all personal.

P.S. To tie this whole issue back in with my original comment, if we can't speak about race without degenerating into name-calling, we will never progress fully on the subject.


message 50: by Caroline (new)

Caroline thanks Matt... :-) I am kind of surprised at the volume of the responses too... and I agree with your point wholeheartedly - if the discussion devolves into name-calling, not much actually gets said to help us all try to understand a really difficult subject.


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