Sparrow's Reviews > The Help

The Help by Kathryn Stockett
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's review
Oct 21, 12

bookshelves: abandoned, reviewed, disturbing, punching-tour
Recommended to Sparrow by: Linda Harrison, Gibney
Recommended for: read Coming of Age in Mississippi instead, please
Read from July 20 to 25, 2010

I have this terrible, dreary feeling in my diaphragm area this morning, and I’m not positive what it’s about, but I blame some of it on this book, which I am not going to finish. I have a friend who is mad at me right now for liking stupid stuff, but the thing is that I do like stupid stuff sometimes, and I think it would be really boring to only like smart things. What I don’t like is when smart (or even middle-brained) writers take an important topic and make it petty through guessing about what they don’t know. I can list you any number of these writers who would be fine if they weren't reaching into topics about which they have no personal experience (incidentally, all writers I'm pretty sure my angry friend loves. For example, The Lovely Bones, The Kite Runner, Water for Elephants, Memoirs of a Geisha, etc.). These are the books for which I have no patience, topics that maybe someone with more imagination or self-awareness could have written about compassionately, without exploiting the victimization of the characters. They’re books that hide lazy writing behind a topic you can’t criticize. The Help is one of these.

You’ve got this narrative telephone game in this book. The telephone game is pretty fun sometimes, and it is really beautiful in monster stories like Frankenstein and Wuthering Heights because what they are telling me is not intended as trustworthy or earnest. All of the seriousness in monster stories is an impression or an emotion reflected back through the layers of narrative. I don’t feel that way about the topic of The Help, though. In this book, a white woman writes from the point of view of a black woman during the Civil Rights movement, who overhears the conversations of white women. It's an important topic, and I don't want to hear it through untrustworthy narrators.

So, I can basically get on board with the dialect of the black maids, but what throws me off as a reader is when the black maid is quoting the white women and they’re all speaking perfect English without a trace of an accent. It becomes particularly weird when one of the black maids starts to comment on the extreme accent of one of the white women, Celia Foote, whose written dialogue continues to be impeccable. Who is this narrator? Why does she choose not to speak proper English if she can speak it? Why does she choose to give proper English to someone else who she has told me doesn't speak it? Also, usually the layers of narration in a telephone-game book are only within the book. In this case, it’s the author’s voice stabbing through the story. I am convinced it is her whose brain hears the white woman speaking TV English, and the black women speaking in dialect. It gives away the game.

Even the quotes from the movie have an example of this. A conversation between her and Minnie goes like this:

Celia Foote: They don't like me because of what they think I did.
Minny Jackson: They don't like you 'cause they think you white trash.

Celia speaks in a proper sentence, but Minny misses the "are" in the second part of the sentence. Celia says "because," but Minny says "'cause." If the reader were supposed to understand that Celia does not speak in dialect, that would make sense, but since it specifically states that she does, it doesn't make sense.

To attempt to be clear, I didn't have a problem that the book was in dialect. I had a problem that the book said, "This white woman speaks in an extreme dialect," and then wrote the woman's dialog not in dialect. Aerin points out in message 111 that I am talking about eye dialect, which is about spelling, not pronunciation, as in the example above. Everyone, in real life, speaks in some form of non-standard English. Though I have seen some really beautiful uses of eye dialect, as Aerin points out, writers typically use it to show subservience of characters or that they are uneducated, which often has racist overtones. If it troubles you that I'm saying this, and you would like to comment on this thread, you may want to read other comments because it is likely someone has already said what you are going to say.

I’m not finishing this one, and it’s not because I think people shouldn’t like it, but rather because I’m almost 100 pages in and I can see the end, and it’s failed to engage me. When a few IRL friends have asked what I thought of the book and I said I didn't care for it, they have told me that I am taking it too seriously, that it is just a silly, fluff book, not a serious study of Civil Rights. Again, I don’t have a problem with stupid books, but when it’s a stupid book disguised as an Important Work of Cultural History, all I want to do the whole time is tear its mask off. And a book about Civil Rights is always important cultural history to me. Anyway, the book becomes unpleasant; I become unpleasant; it’s bad news. If you loved this book, though, (or, really, even if you hated it) I would recommend Coming of Age in Mississippi. I think that book is one of the more important records of American history. Plus, it’s beautifully written, inspirational, and shocking. It's been years since I read it, so I might be giving it an undeserved halo, but I can’t say enough good things about it.


"You should finish the book before you talk about it": comment 150 (second paragraph); comments 198 and 199.

“Stockett did experience the Civil Rights Era”: comment 154; comment 343.

“The author of The Lovely Bones was raped”: comment 190.

“The author of The Kite Runner is from Afghanistan”: comment 560.

"Memoirs of a Geisha is accurate and not comparable to The Help": comment 574.

“Don’t be so critical!”: comment 475.

“Have you written a bestseller?”: comment 515.

“Fiction doesn’t have to be a history lesson”: comments 157 through 162.

“Having grown up in the South during this era and having had a maid, I could relate to the emotional nuances of this book”: comments 222 and 223.

"Minny and Aibileen are relatable": comment 626

“You are trying to silence authors”: comment 317 and comments 306 through 316.

“Why do you want to read a Civil Rights book about racism and hatred? I would prefer one about friendship and working together”: comment 464.

“Why are there so many votes for such a half-assed review?”: comment 534.

“Authors can write outside of their personal experiences”: comments 569 through 587.
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Reading Progress

07/24/2010 page 63
14.0% "This feels really Ya Ya Sisterhood to me. I don't know if I should give up or not."
07/25/2010 page 85
19.0% "Not for me." 2 comments

Comments (showing 551-600 of 754) (754 new)

message 551: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow Jonathan wrote: "As for your "editing" a review because it's a throwaway? Why the hell would you write a review on a social media site unless you want people to comment on it?"

If that is a genuine question, I wrote this one, initially, so that I would remember why I didn't want to finish the book. Most reviews go under the radar, and I had no reason to think this one wouldn't.

message 552: by Jessica (last edited Dec 30, 2012 11:48AM) (new)

Jessica any review of a very popular novel, particularly if it takes an against-the-mainstream stance, is not going to go under the radar. That, and the fact that you hadn't finished the book, led people to your thread, I suspect...

message 553: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow Huh, maybe this is the only review of mine of a popular novel where I take a stance against the mainstream.

message 554: by Cory (last edited Dec 30, 2012 01:26PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Cory Sparrow wrote: "Huh, maybe this is the only review of mine of a popular novel where I take a stance against the mainstream."

That, and some white people just love defending racist shit that makes them feel good. It's quite a privilege, you know?

message 555: by Sparrow (last edited Dec 30, 2012 01:37PM) (new) - added it

Sparrow Maybe. I am more tempted to say it is the gods of OCD tormenting me about not explaining myself well enough. But, on the other hand, I think I've probably written worse reviews, and they've gone under the radar. So, maybe I'm just suffering from the same thing as the authors I'm criticizing - not explaining myself well about a sensitive topic.

message 556: by Sparrow (last edited Dec 30, 2012 01:54PM) (new) - added it

Sparrow Jonathan wrote: "Instead, she caid writers who do not have 1st hand knowledge cannot write about such things."

Again, I did not say this, nor do I think it. I said that in my view that is the area of writing in which those writers struggled.

message 557: by Cory (last edited Dec 30, 2012 01:53PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Cory Jonathan wrote: "Cory, it has nothing to do with defending racism: it has everything to do with the fact she didn't even finish the book and her reasons for doing so. If Sparrow had, at the very least, written an ..."

I don't really care if Sparrow finished the book or not. I read the book, the script, and watched the movie. I completely agree with her.

Most of the complaints against this review are trivial little bits of nonsense that basically amount to—I'm not a racist and this book isn't racist, either. I doubt most of the readers of this review even understand Sparrow's discontent with this book—you being one of them.

If someone must spell out their opinion in black and white, plain as day, for the masses to understand, in a way that appeases you, go hire someone to review books for you. Clearly, 300 people understood Sparrow. You were not one of them.

message 558: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow Jonathan wrote: "I'm currently reading it. I'll reserve judgment until I'm finished. But if you disliked it so much, why did you watch the movie and read the screenplay? Are you a glutton for punishment? I hated ..."

But you think I should have finished this book? This seems weirdly contradictory.

message 559: by Paquita Maria (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez Jesus, dude, give it a rest.

message 560: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow And bossy. Like, "You must read just enough, but not too much."

message 561: by Cory (last edited Dec 30, 2012 02:03PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Cory Sparrow wrote: "Jonathan wrote: "I'm currently reading it. I'll reserve judgment until I'm finished. But if you disliked it so much, why did you watch the movie and read the screenplay? Are you a glutton for puni..."

There's no way to win, is there? Fucking ridiculous, I swear.

ETA: I forgot you didn't even rate this thing. People are weird.

message 562: by Paquita Maria (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez Ludicrous! says the man with the silly beard and the fucking cigar. The internet must feel like your own little Avalon, eh? I think there must be a fair maiden in the outer realms in a state of distress. Go tend to her, fair knight! Also, why do you put quotation marks around "I"? Should we be questioning the fact that you actually exist?

message 563: by Paquita Maria (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez Sorry, Sparrow. I know you don't like it when I troll your trolls, but I have a hangover and I'm feeling sassy. I'm sorry!

message 564: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow haha, no i don't mind today! It put me in a bad mood today for whatever reason. I am feeling oppressed!

I was going to ask about the "I," too! Maybe he is not really him!

Jonathan, I think it is ludicrous to say anyone goes into a reading experience unbiased, unless "unbiased" means with the point of view of a white man, in which case, okay, fair point.

message 565: by Paquita Maria (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez I would offer legitimate criticism of the words coming out of your fingers if it wasn't the same, tired bullshit defending of the rights of humans on an opinion-sharing site to have opinions which conflict with your own, the same shit that has been said and said and said again. Seriously, if you take such issue with this review, then move on. Do you think you're going to make her like it? Waste her time reading the rest? Will you respect her opinion more if she finishes the book and still hates it? Just what the fuck do you hope to accomplish? Seriously, I keep getting updates and get all excited because I think someone's engaging me in an even remotely worthwhile conversation, and it's just you with your ridiculous opinion that Sparrow doesn't deserve to have an opinion because she hasn't, like, "earned" it yet. Those quotations were for emphasis, "Jonathan."

message 566: by Cory (last edited Dec 30, 2012 02:55PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Cory Dude, you do not get to define what is "well though out."

You are not the review god. You're a guy on GR, who by his own admission, hasn't even finished the fucking book and you're chastising someone else who hasn't finished it either.

In fact, among the three of us, I'm the only one who has. Using your screwed up logic, since I agree with Sparrow, my opinion validates hers. Therefor, she's right. You're wrong. Go away.

BTW: No one is unbiased. Not you. Not me. You must think you're fucking Roger Ebert. Alert: You aren't.

message 567: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow Jonathan wrote: "Except I'm not white. Never have been. I'm a mixed race person. I just happen to have my mother's coloring. You see my picture and assume I'm white. You could look at my last name and assume I'..."

No, I just saying there was a chance you might have an "unbiased" opinion. Better luck next time.

I completely disagree that people can go into a book unbiased. I think that is an extremely false and arrogant of you to say that you can. I have never attempted, nor would I attempt, to say I am unbiased. I bring my bias to every book I read, whether I like the book or dislike it. I think my personal bias is what I offer as a reviewer.

Speaking of Les Mis, I'm off to see it in a minute. Have fun sucking at punctuation.

message 568: by Paquita Maria (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez Jonathan wrote: "Paquita, I didn't need to be told what the quotation marks are for. I'm smart enough to figure it out."

Coulda fooled "me."

message 569: by Cory (new) - rated it 2 stars

Cory Have fun with Les Mis, Sparrow. I really want to see it when I get back home.

message 570: by Paquita Maria (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez Roger Ebert and Vincent Gallo strongly dislike one another. I read that in Ebert's book which I never finished. Is it okay that I'm "saying" this?

message 571: by Jason (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jason Sparrow, I have nothing to say to your trolls. Nothing at all!

message 572: by Miriam (new)

Miriam Paquita Maria wrote: "Roger Ebert and Vincent Gallo strongly dislike one another. I read that in Ebert's book which I never finished. Is it okay that I'm "saying" this?"

But you didn't finish the book! How do you know their strong dislike wasn't masking displaced sexual tension? Everyone who watches movies or reads romance knows people who appear to hate one another are secretly in love and merely attempting to resist their passionate urges. Skip to the end and see if there's a sex scene!

message 573: by Paquita Maria (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez God, I hope so. Vincent Gallo's so pretty like a woman, and Roger Ebert's so bloated and old and asshole-like. They come together cuz opposites attract and you know.

message 574: by Jason (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jason Paquita Maria wrote: "God, I hope so. Vincent Gallo's so pretty like a woman, and Roger Ebert's so bloated and old and asshole-like. They come together cuz opposites attract and you know."

It ain't fiction, just natural fact.

message 575: by Paquita Maria (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez I once dated a guy who looked almost exactly like Vincent Gallo, like to a creepy extent. He hated him for it. I kinda love Gallo, despite the fact that he sold his sperm on ebay. An old roommate and I used to describe our friendship as "spanning time together. Two people...spaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaning time together."

We came together cuz opposites attract and you know.

message 576: by Cory (last edited Dec 30, 2012 05:08PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Cory Paquita Maria wrote: "God, I hope so. Vincent Gallo's so pretty like a woman, and Roger Ebert's so bloated and old and asshole-like. They come together cuz opposites attract and you know."

Rule 34.

That is so gross, btw. Just think—Ebert's flab flopping all over the place.

message 577: by Paquita Maria (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez Flab flopping is a fucking WONDERFUL combination of words! Excuse me while I say that 10 times fast.

message 578: by Cory (new) - rated it 2 stars

Cory I wonder if Ebert has google alerts set to his name. It would be so hilarious if he found this thread.

message 579: by Paquita Maria (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez That would be so magical.

message 580: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow I'm back!! And I'm """""""""hungry""""""""". I totally love that story, and, as always, there's a lot you can criticize about the production, but it was lovely to see it. But, sheesh, long! Bring sustenance, kids!

message 581: by Sparrow (last edited Dec 30, 2012 07:06PM) (new) - added it

Sparrow But, I did like a lot about the production, don't get me wrong. It just would be hard to ruin that story, I think. And it's interesting to see productions that focus somewhat more on the acting than the singing. Also Sasha Baron Cohen! Always amazing.

message 582: by Jessica (last edited Dec 31, 2012 02:14AM) (new)

Jessica I don't see how someone looks in a photo on gr has any relevance to the discussion or why someone who reads a review and engages in a discussion on a thread is a troll.

I'm not looking to resurrect what appears to have reached some kind of conclusion (I was away, maybe a good thing) but that kind of personal attack bothers me and is off point, besides.

As for punctuation wars, that is only another form of personal attack clothed as "intelligent" argument. Who cares?

message 583: by Sparrow (last edited Dec 31, 2012 06:54AM) (new) - added it

Sparrow I think how someone looks has a great deal of relevance to any discussion about discrimination, especially where someone is claiming to be unbiased. I did not, however, intend to comment on Jonathan's appearance, as I did not even click to his profile until after he got mad about thinking I was accusing him of being white. But, then I also got confused because I'm not totally sure what difference it makes what Jonathan's heritage is to the comment I made about white-male being the neutral perspective. If you're not a white male, then no neutral perspective, if you are, then neutral perspective. My comment was about culture, not Jonathan's appearance.

But then, after he made his comment, I started thinking, if my comment were about his appearance, then for purposes of that comment, by looking white, wouldn't Jonathan have a neutral, white-male perspective, just like he's saying, because race and gender entitlement is based on appearance and not heritage?

Anyway, I am not trying to weasel out of the idea that I made a joke about Jonathan's appearance because if I had, I'm sort of fine with that. I just think that Jonathan is the one who made it about his appearance and I could have made that comment, even if he was a black woman, and it would have had the same meaning.

I don't think there has actually been intelligent argument in this conversation. I think I got reprimanded for not finishing the book, told how "real" reviewers write reviews, and the ludicrous idea that I think no one can write from imagination got repeated over and over again. The first two of those are such common trolling comments that I think they immediately qualify. Even on this thread, I think those things have been called troll 101. And I believe I addressed the misconstruction that I think no author can write from imagination at least five times yesterday alone. At the point that idea continues to be repeated, I think it is just trolling, not "intelligent" argument.

I had not intended my punctuation comment to be intelligent argument. I had only intended it to be a bitchy reprimand that sank to Jonathan's level. And it looks like that was actually the thing that worked and got him to stop the crazy repetition. Yay!

message 584: by Jessica (last edited Dec 31, 2012 04:47PM) (new)

Jessica much of what I said was directed to others on this thread, not you alone. I just think resorting to personal attack is low and uncalled for. No matter how poorly constructed or repetitive you found Jonathan's arguments, they were not personal attacks.
I'll stop now.

message 585: by Jessica (new)

Jessica I particularly love your catalog of criticisms

message 586: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow haha, thank you! I thought it might encourage some creativity in the problems people have with this review . . . and possibly make it so that I didn't have to figure out where comment 190 was all of the time.

ChrissieD This was a wonderful review and I wholeheartedly agree with it! (And, by the way, I finished the book, which was not to my benefit because I ended up angry and annoyed.) I absolutely hear you about "untrustworthy narrators". I have felt that way about many books and bite my tongue because the "smart" folk are often judgmental moralizers who want to believe they are always right. So glad I read your review! Thank you for writing it!

message 588: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow Thank you! Yeah, I usually have a pretty good instinct about when things will get better.

message 589: by Abishek (new) - added it

Abishek that feeling is surely gonna deepen im sure one you see then movie made kid this novel.... truly heartfelt n heartily....tears shedding movie

message 590: by Julie (new) - rated it 4 stars

Julie I did not read this book when it first came out, because I didn't like the idea of a white woman writing from the perspective of black women during the Civil Rights Movement. Though I agree that the colloquial speech on the part of the domestics is pronounced, but lacking in the white women, I found that it did seem to be a pretty honest perspective. Usually movies or books from this era try to gloss things over and are not as honest as they should be.
Of course we have our typical villain/antagonist, Hilly and heroine/protagonist Skeeter. Their characters are not very developed in my opinion, as far as what their positions are. I don't ever feel a true sense of who Hilly really is, why she is the way she is and why she is so different from Skeeter. On that point The author never really describes Skeeter's true feelings about race and Civil Rights. It is difficult to see how one lived through that period of time without grasping the importance of the events, especially in the setting.
But there was a warmth and honesty that came through about the feelings that both black and white women shared. I think that despite the lack of any strong black male character, and the omission of the prevalent sexual abuse that many women suffered, there was some truth to the story that many people don't acknowledge. This is that there were some relationships that did involve trust and loyalty and love. Despite the fact that there was a lot of violence and there was oppression in the South, through it all there were people (white people) that knew it was wrong and they reached out to help the individuals that they could. The point of the book to me was that though many tries to draw these lines and borders between people, there were others who knew there weren't any. This book also underscores the purposeful ignorance and lack of knowledge that people had on the difference between African Americans and Caucasians. It was a widespread lack of education even amongst the "educated". That is fascinating to me that there was so much misinformation that actually seems to have been ingrained into the schools, and through the government as a last ditch effort to maintain a way of life that resembled the slaveowner generations.
The lack of self awareness in the author or narrator is very interesting to me, as though writing this book was a way to help her say thank you to her maid that died when she was 16. What does she think that her beloved maid would say? Did she ever travel to her maid's home to see the conditions in which she lived? Did she ever contribute her time to the Civil Rights Movement? She seems to be struggling with her identity, and she doesn't really seem to have a straight answer or position at all, which I find interesting. Her characters, Minny and Aibilene are very strong and though there are some aspects of the "Magic Negro" character element to them, they are relatable. Overall, the book was entertaining and I enjoyed it but I did have a lot of questions and it does seem to be another typical gloss-over of the Southern Way.

message 591: by Jessica (new)

Jessica that is a thoughtful post. makes me think I should maybe give it a go (I hadn't wanted to), to see these issues for myself. thanks.

message 592: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow I did not find Minny or Aibileen relatable, and I find it somewhat troubling that anyone would view herself as an extra in a story about her employer, but I guess that might be just a clear place where we would disagree.

That is interesting that you don't feel Skeeter's position as to Civil Rights is very developed. I guess I had assumed it would be, but, here I am, expecting too much again.

It is also interesting that you say most books gloss over things in the Civil Rights Era. I am not extremely well-read in Civil Rights books, but I had not read a book about the topic of race relations that seemed to gloss over things as much as this one - maybe Gone With the Wind, but I have only seen that movie, and it is about a different era, but still probably comparable. Maybe I am just not thinking of some obvious ones.

message 593: by Kelly (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kelly Sumner The writer grew up in Jackson Mississippi with a coloured maid and does know about the topic

message 594: by [deleted user] (new)


message 595: by Sparrow (last edited Jan 06, 2013 08:57AM) (new) - added it

Sparrow Kelly wrote: "The writer grew up in Jackson Mississippi with a coloured maid and does know about the topic"

If you notice in the index of problems, that is the second one down, so comments 154 and 343 apply. Also, nice use of the word "colored."

message 596: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow Ceridwen wrote: "Hahaha."

I'm so glad I finally did that! So much easier than looking up the comments all the time.

message 597: by Jessica (new)

Jessica Julie wrote: "I did not read this book when it first came out, because I didn't like the idea of a white woman writing from the perspective of black women during the Civil Rights Movement. ..."


message 598: by Synesthesia (new) - added it

Synesthesia Who in this modern world uses the word COLOURED?!

message 599: by Cory (new) - rated it 2 stars

Cory Synesthesia wrote: "Who in this modern world uses the word COLOURED?!"

She's a Brit, so I guess it's a bit different over there.

Coloured /=/ Colored I suppose.

message 600: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow Someone I work with was saying that in Europe, they don't have colored M&Ms. So, Those People are at least chocolate racists.

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