Sparrow's Reviews > The Help

The Help by Kathryn Stockett
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's review
Apr 30, 2010

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
02/19/2016 marked as: abandoned

Comments (showing 151-200 of 792) (792 new)

message 151: by [deleted user] (new)

Nice with the tm. I'm in agreement about whether it should be memoir, I think. I think the cloak of "fiction" when dealing with a subject this incendiary is deeply unfair. When one criticizes the execution, it's too freaking easy to pretend that one is criticizing the subject. It's either fun lies, or it is important, but it can't be both. I like fun lies, and the important, but they are not the same thing.

message 152: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow exactly.

message 153: by [deleted user] (new)

The sad thing is, until this movie fades into a hangover of Culturally Important but Little Watched Films, you will be dealing with irritating, similar criticisms of your review. Good luck with the next six months!

message 154: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow Yeah, even I, self-confessed troll-lover that I am, get a little discouraged by all of the reaction to this review. Like I was saying, it's such a throwaway. When will start advertising Motherless Daughters or Fulk the Reluctant, so I can get some more reactions to those reviews? Or, I don't know what other ones I actually want to talk about. I'm always pumped for The Historian, but I had to spoiler alert that one, so no one ever wants to troll it.

message 155: by Sparrow (last edited Aug 21, 2011 08:26AM) (new) - added it

Sparrow I know, sigh. No, I'm not out to look for the trolls. I'm just wondering if goodreads will re-direct the energy somewhere else soon - like maybe someone will make a movie of Fulk? A girl can dream.

message 156: by Sparrow (last edited Aug 21, 2011 09:02AM) (new) - added it

Sparrow You're right. I should go edit that silly thing before a deluge starts. Interestingly, I didn't really get haters on the Historian, that I remember - but it does have the spoiler alert. You got some good ones, right?

message 157: by Miriam (new)

Miriam I think the Darkfever haters will be awesome, because half of them won't have read the book and will be attacking your reviews based on the movie.

message 158: by Sparrow (last edited Aug 21, 2011 09:14AM) (new) - added it

Sparrow I'm a little worried about it being like Kat's Clockwork Angel review, though. That turned so dreary after, like, the twelfth all-caps, no-spelling teen hater.

And, yeah, the anger over the research criticism was hilarious. NO! She SHOULDN'T have to research! All those research kids need is some sandwiches and their trusty dog, and they'll find old man Dracula!

message 159: by [deleted user] (new)

...I haven't seen a lot of Moning haters, just like I haven't seen that many Twilight haters. (To be clear, I mean people who troll negative reviews, not haters of the books.) I may just be in the wrong demographic, but it seems like even lovers of those books know they are stupid. Cassandra Clare seems to attract the haters though; I wonder what the difference is.

message 160: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow Yeah, that is really weird. Maybe all the Clare haters are actually Clare herself. I didn't get haters on the Clare that I read, though, I don't think. It's the old one, though.

It's true that Twilight didn't bring out the haters (except Patrick. He can't stand a negative review of Twilight). I wonder if Moning will be similar.

message 161: by Miriam (new)

Miriam I wonder if there is a guilt complex attached to liking Clare, what with all the accusations of plagiarism et al?

message 162: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow Oh, yeah, I bet that's it. I did get one hater on that issue. Like, "If you haven't written a book, you can't know if someone plagiarized." hahaha. Such a good one.

message 163: by Miriam (new)

Miriam Poor plagiarists, google makes their lives so hard.

message 164: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow And the mean book reviewers don't make it any easier. Awww.

message 165: by Miriam (last edited Aug 24, 2011 12:05PM) (new)

Miriam You're just lucky this is the internet or people would be up in your grill slapping you with their gloves.

Then we'd have scenes like this:

message 166: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow hahaha! Those ladies are badass. But, I feel like being topless in that situation is unwise.

message 167: by Miriam (new)

Miriam No! It was at the recommendation of the Baroness on the left, a doctor. The biggest risk in dueling before Lister was infection, and that was often caused by fragments of clothing stuck in the wounds. But psychologically I share your reaction.

message 168: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow Ahh, hmmm. One wonders if the "doctor" had other motivation. It seems like some kind of body armor might be a more effective solution to all of the problems.

message 169: by [deleted user] (new)

Doctor was a girl too!

message 170: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow I saw that, but, still . . . Some girls like to see boobies.

message 171: by Miriam (new)

Miriam Body armor would be cheating! And it would encourage cutting to the face, which is probably not where princesses prefer their scars. Although I believe one of the ladies in that fight got sliced across the nose anyway.

message 172: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow Oh, the first is the same as the link Ceridwen gave. It must have been published in multiple places. So good.

I love this from the second:

From what I could tell, the impact of a film like The Help is that white folks get to go in a theater and feel all warm and fuzzy about a time that was horrid for black people. I think it’s way too simple to think all the help back then were scared black women who lived under the oppression of racist self-absorbed desperate housewives, as the movie made them out to be.

message 173: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow Miriam wrote: "Body armor would be cheating! And it would encourage cutting to the face, which is probably not where princesses prefer their scars. Although I believe one of the ladies in that fight got sliced ac..."

I'm not sure I understand whether they are trying to kill each other or score points. If they are trying to kill each other, the armor still seems advisable.

message 174: by Miriam (new)

Miriam This duel was over flower arrangements, so one would hope it was not to the death.

message 175: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow Miriam wrote: "This duel was over flower arrangements, so one would hope it was not to the death."

I've been to a few weddings like that.

message 176: by Sara (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sara I don't begrudge you your opinions, but I just wanted to see what your thought was on The Lovely Bones. The author herself was raped and wrote a memoir on it, so I wanted to make sure you meant the afterlife portion of the book and not the rape theme when you said she wrote about something she knew nothing about.

message 177: by Sparrow (last edited Aug 23, 2011 06:41PM) (new) - added it

Sparrow Hmmm, that's a good point. I had kind of blocked out the rape because what really, really bothered me about that book was the shallowness of the mourning process the family experienced, which was what the book was about to me. I feel like the story exploits the horror of the daughter's experience to explore a silly woman's midlife crisis. Not that I'm intending to discount the crisis a mother would experience after her daughter's brutal murder, but I'm saying that I feel like the book does. It felt like over-extension of either the author's understanding and compassion for humans or her writing abilities.

message 178: by Sara (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sara That's a good point. I really liked that book, but I do notice that now that you mention it. At the same time though, I've heard of sadder stories and stranger things happening after a loss so I guess it's hard to say. I do think that portion could have used a bit more thought though.

message 179: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow I do think it's very common for (view spoiler) Similarly, I'm not intending to say that Stockett knows nothing about Civil Rights. I just think pretending to know what was going through a black maid's head during the 60's in the South was too much of a stretch. I think it would be too much of a stretch for most people who were not black maids during the 60's in the South, though.

message 180: by Sara (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sara I do have to agree with you. I think writing fiction is all about inventing what you don't necessarily know in a character, so it doesn't bother me, but I do understand your point of view. If you read the About the Author, she was born in Jackson, Mississipi... and based on her photo, I would imagine she was born in the late 60s or early 70s. She probably felt like she had enough to go on based on that, but was just missing a lot of the meat of the matter.

message 181: by Sparrow (last edited Aug 23, 2011 08:09PM) (new) - added it

Sparrow Yeah, we were just talking about how she was born in 1969, so she grew up just after the era. I know that, like Skeeter, she did interview maids for the story, but I think the story still has a white-centered feel that seems fundamentally false.

I completely agree that fiction is about creating what you don't necessarily know, but I think it's still possible to do that ineffectively, and create something offensive (even if it is unintentionally offensive), in reaching too far beyond what you can imagine about what is going on in other people's brains. But, again, if a writer is writing less-than-resonant humans, and writing about vampires, I can enjoy that. I take Civil Rights and child murder more personally.

message 182: by Sara (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sara Ah, I work with special needs children so I fairly often take offense at novels written about those which special needs when they are meant to be helpful. I completely get what you're saying there.
And thanks for letting me know what year she was actually born... that's helpful to me!

message 183: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow Yep! No prob! Thanks for being cool about the review.

message 184: by Janis (new) - added it

Janis I find it hard to put much stock into a review written by someone that gave up after only 100 pages and said "Im not going to read any more". I am almost finished this book and have enjoyed it. Only when I am finished will I recommend (or not) this book to others.

message 185: by [deleted user] (last edited Aug 25, 2011 02:38PM) (new)

The DNF - or Did Not Finish - review is a perfectly cromulent review type, common enough to have its own acronym. Meredith doesn't rate this book, and she tells you it is a DNF review. I find value in knowing why people abandon books. Doesn't mean I'm always going to agree, but an opinion of distaste isn't somehow invalid just because the reader didn't grit their teeth through the whole novel.

message 186: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow Janis wrote: "Only when I am finished will I recommend (or not) this book to others."

I almost never recommend someone to read or not read a book, whether I've read it or not. I tried to be clear in the review that I don't have a problem with anyone liking or reading the book, and I don't ever think of a review as a recommendation, only as a reaction. Very few people have the same taste I have, and unless I know someone really well, or they specifically ask, I don't usually recommend books. I know I recommend Coming of Age in Mississippi here, but that is only for my scientific interest, not for other people's enjoyment. So, you can keep your stock if you want.

C - hahahaha! We should keep your comment as a stock response whenever people make the DNF attack.

message 187: by Kate (new)

Kate " I can list you any number of these writers who would be fine if they weren't reaching into topics that about which they have no personal experience (incidentally, all writers I'm pretty sure my mad friend loves." Wow maybe that would have been a really smart criticism if Kathryn Stockett (that's the author by the way, just in case you didn't even research that) didn't have tons of personal experience with the themes in the book.

Kathryn Stockett was raised in Jackson Missippi during the 1960's, so actually qualifies for having first hand experience in the exact setting. She was also raised by her black maid or "The Help" -wink wink-.

I personally think that based on this striking evidence Kathryn Stockett has more personal experience than most other people and should not be criticised otherwise.

P.S. Please don't half arsedly try to write a criticise with false accusations just because this woman is a hell of a lot smarter than you and it hurts your ego that you didn't understand her book :(

message 188: by [deleted user] (new)

Wrong. She was raised in Mississippi during the 70s, which is not the same era she depicts in The Help.

message 189: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow She was actually born in 1969. I don't think she has experience being a black maid, and those characters came off as false caricatures to me. I think the Skeeter character doesn't come off as false because she does have experience with issues that character would face.

message 190: by Jessica (new)

Jessica this review's sure getting a lot of traction!

message 191: by Sara (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sara Kate wrote: "" I can list you any number of these writers who would be fine if they weren't reaching into topics that about which they have no personal experience (incidentally, all writers I'm pretty sure my m..."
I actually really like the book so far, but I have to say, you're very wrong in nearly everything you said. The author was born in 1969 so even in 1979 she was still only a ten-year old. She wrote about a time that was happening right before she was born. Though she may have some recollection of the aftermath, she has no first-hand experience with the matter at all. I've done a lot of searching online and can't find a single mention of her being raised by a black maid, so I'd like to see a source from that please.
And finally, you make your own response look so much weaker when you throw around criticisms like "just because this woman is a hell of a lot smarter than you..."
You couldn't possibly know that, and now you've just made yourself look silly and petty and unreliable.
If you don't like to read about the negative opinions on the book then don't.

message 192: by Sparrow (last edited Aug 25, 2011 11:29AM) (new) - added it

Sparrow Jessica wrote: "this review's sure getting a lot of traction!"

haha, yeah. But it's been cycling around a lot for the past couple of years, or whatever. Year? I don't know. Like Ceridwen says, there's nothing like middlebrow fiction to really get people riled up. I feel like I say way more bitchy things other places, but this is the one that takes all the heat.

Thanks, Sara! I have heard that a black woman was her nanny, but I don't have any sources to back that up. I've also heard that she interviewed women and had them even write out their own stories, which is really interesting to me. I'd kind of like to sit her down and ask her a lot of questions about her whole process and how she interpreted the stories she heard. I mean, I think even making a spunky, young white woman the unifying character in a story like this is a questionable choice, in the way that she did it, but I'd like to hear her thoughts.

message 193: by [deleted user] (last edited Aug 25, 2011 02:40PM) (new)

This is not the maid who was her nanny, but Stockett is being sued by a family maid for using her likeness without her consent. I think likely the maid will lose this suit, because, as everyone keeps pointing out, it's fiction. But, obviously, at least one maid that Stockett knew growing up takes issue with her depiction of her character.

message 194: by Jessica (last edited Aug 25, 2011 11:54AM) (new)

Jessica well, it's wildly popular, as a book and film now, so...

I can't bring myself to go near it.

message 195: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow Ceridwen wrote: "

This is not the same as being raised by a maid, but Sockett is being sued by a family maid for using her likeness w..."

Oh geez! Just like you were suggesting!! That's so rad. Not that I think she has ANY chance of winning, but that is a rad reason to sue someone.

message 196: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow Oh, man . . . that article is so amazing. What a perfect example of the offensive language. I CAN'T BELIEVE SHE USED HER ACTUAL NAME!! In that case, there is actually a good chance she could win the lawsuit. Or, at least a way closer call.

That is so hilarious to me. Stop being funny internets! I am in Tax, sitting in the front row!

message 197: by Jessica (new)

Jessica Ceridwen wrote: "

This is not the same as being raised by a maid, but Sockett is being sued by a family maid for using her likeness w..."

She obviously feels she's being exploited...Stockett's profiting--

message 198: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow Well, that's a breach of privacy. States usually have statutes about it, but I did a paper about it last spring in relation to the military. You can't make money using someone else's likeness. It's called the right to publicity. And, if they establish that it is close enough to her, she could also sue for defamation. I hope they included that in the lawsuit. Plus, since it's a race issues, courts freak out. They should sue in California. I hope they sued in California! Or Illinois (I think). I want to volunteer for this case!!

message 199: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow dammit. it looks like those morons sued in Mississippi. that's ridiculous.

message 200: by Jessica (new)

Jessica they'll never win in Mississippi, right?

But could she have sued in a different state?

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