Joe's Reviews > The Help

The Help by Kathryn Stockett
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Jul 28, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: gift, mlis-book-club
Read from July 04 to 06, 2010

** spoiler alert ** I read the first paragraph of The Help, absorbing the words, but suddenly being caught off guard by the dialect. I stopped reading.

I shifted the book in my hands, flipping to the author's biography and photograph on the back of the dust jacket.

Staring up at me was this:

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Oh, sweet Jesus, I thought. An affluent, white Manhattanite. Great. And one who apparently fancies herself a master at Southern Black Vernacular. Even better.

I rolled my eyes and returned to page one, fully prepared to hate every word on every page, beginning with Aibileen's horrifically stereotyped "voice" written by this smug White Lady.

Look, I really don't subscribe to the belief that one must be a part of a culture in order to write effectively (or even stirringly) about or in the voice of that culture. Wally Lamb wrote convincingly as a twin in I Know This Much Is True (and as an identical twin, I can vouch for its authenticity). Nancy Farmer wove African culture beautifully into her science fiction novel The Ear, The Eye, and the Arm. Mark Haddon's Christopher Swinton character is a remarkable sketch of a child with autism. So clearly it can be done.

But I was not convinced about Stockett.

When Minnie's first chapter hopped along in The Help, I prepared myself for an unconvincing spin on Aibileen's narrative, a pasty twist of the vernacular that had been spewed out in the first paragraph. That is not what I got. Instead, her character was nothing like the other maid; her own voice was rendered in tough, bitter layers, providing a nice foil to Aibileen's complex struggle between resolve and resign.

NO! my brain screamed. WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! DO NOT ENJOY THIS!

But the pages turned, and when I next looked up at the clock, a few hours had passed and I was well on my way to the halfway point.

Dammit.

And this was the pattern that followed in the 2 1/2 days it took me to read The Help; I found myself loving it and hating it simultaneously, but leaning more to the Love side of the dilemma. There are countless trite episodes in The Help, standard plot fillers that can be found in both heaving Harlequin romances and sucky Oprah Book Club fodder. But there are more moments of striking beauty, humanity, and humor, even if the ending is a bit of a cop-out. (No surprise that The Rich White Lady Saves The Day And Gets What She Wants.)

Is The Help Great Literature? No. Is it a fast and enjoyable read? Yes. It's also a fairly striking and genuine portrait of what life in the south was like during those tumultuous times. And for that... well, for that I quite liked it.

So congratulations, Whitey McWhiterson, I wound up not hating your book.

And God knows I tried.
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Reading Progress

02/25 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-32 of 32) (32 new)

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Ally I definitely want to hear what you think of this. Some people were surprised at my review.


message 2: by Joe (new) - rated it 4 stars

Joe Well, I've read almost 350 pages in 2 1/2 days, so I can't really say it's unreadable.

I'm definitely going to write a review for it. So look for that. :)


Kate I think I also read it in 2 1/2 days!


message 4: by Rich (new)

Rich Mistretta Truly enjoyed your analytical prose: however, what struck me was your revelation that there is "another Joe" roaming the earth. Can this be true? Is mankind really prepared to cope with a world that contains both you and your identical twin? Say it ain't so, Joe!


message 5: by Do (new)

Do Your "Whitey McWhiterson", while she lived and worked in Manhattan at one time, is not a "Manhattanite" but rather a transplant from Jackson, MS, where she was born and reared. Her use of vernacular is not only legitimate, it's accurate.

So, while you set out to hate "Whitey McWhiterson's" book based on her picture and your inability to "hear" the narrator's true voice, you might want to get your facts straight so that if you do dislike something it's for a legitimate reason not for prejudice.


message 6: by Joe (new) - rated it 4 stars

Joe Do wrote: ""Whitey McWhiterson", while she lived and worked in Manhattan at one time, is not a "Manhattanite" but rather a transplant from Jackson, MS, where she was born and reared. Her use of vernacular is ..."

Did you read my review at all? I wound up finding her voice quite authentic. I'm fully aware that she lived in the south and had "help" in her home - she did, in fact, write about her personal experiences in a post-script at the end of the book. If you had read my review clearly, you would have seen that my assumptions were based on the first paragraph (and couple of chapters) of the book. I think it's pretty clear that I owned up to my prejudices against the author.


Robin well said. I was surprised this was as good as it was, and surprised that it couldn;t have been better. But a good first novel, and I hope more will come.


Alyssa I love that you named Katherine's picture "I'm a white person!"


Jackie this is exactly what I did...read a chapter, flipped to the back, saw her picture and thought "oh geez"...haha your review is spot on with my experience :)


message 10: by KIKA (new) - rated it 5 stars

KIKA awesome review--- as always, just finished the book and quite enjoyed it :)

Question: Do you have like a favorite book list? For this past year or like all time favorites?


message 11: by Will (new)

Will THE HELP hmmmmm I thought the book was interesting enough to keep me reading but aibilene's dialect was challening to read (i dislike when authors do that)

However, i appreciate the snap shot view in the life of a maid during that particular time era but was dismayed how the maids was rendered weak, always scared of their employers, and why in the hell did it take the end of the book for Minnie to strike up enough courage to leave her abusive husband.

Interesting enough the author gave us a smidget of what can/does happen with our judicial system be it 1960 or 2011. Not much has changed, hopefully we'll be able to meet as a group to discuss the book.


Nicholas So what I loved most about this review was the constant back-and-forth of your own war with yourself over liking or disliking the book. I felt much the same way but didn't write about it in terms nearly so funny.

I also agree that there is a real contrast between Aibileen and Minnie that was probably the saving grace of the novel.


Jillian Benavidez You've expressed exactly what I've been wanting to say about this book since I've started it. :)


message 14: by Florence (new)

Florence Mcdermott Enjoyed your review a lot and felt that bi-polar love/hate as you did. Stockett has a real gift for story-telling but it screamed "Hollywood" rather than Pulitzer and I can!t blame her? If she keeps at it, she may become a more nuanced writer.
Florence


Lady Day HILARIOUS JOE!!!!


Meredith I agree. When I first opened the book I rolled my eyes at the vernacular. It seems so old fashioned. Come on, this is what Mark Twain used to do. Get with the times, Stockett. But after a while I got into it. I found it to be authentic, and not at all unreadable (unlike Emily Bronte's "vernacular," for example). So I think she did it just right.


Stephanie this is soooo spot on!!!


 Gigi Ann Enjoyed your review, I too, have a love/hate relationship with this book. When I first started to read it, I didn't think I would finish it, but struggled on, until I got the hang of the language, and then things seem to flow a bit better. I took me 5 days to get the book read. It was interesting but not a page turner for me.


Sarah I also struggled with some of these things and ended up liking it in the end; however, I'm not sure the ending is as trite as you think (I'll give you a little there, but not the whole thing). Skeeter does get the job, but not without cost and disillusionment. She loses Stuart, mostly because he is scared. She learns her lifelong friends aren't quite so lifelong, and she learns the depth of racism in even her mother.
The end is a bit abrupt, but it is no happily ever after, you-can-have-it-all situation.
Funny review, though, Joe.


message 20: by Brenda (new) - added it

Brenda I enjoyed the book, just really didn't like the foul language, why do they have to publish a good book and ruin it with bad language??? I would re-read this again. The movie was good also.


message 21: by Elizabeth (new) - added it

Elizabeth This is *EXACTLY* how I read this book. I went "UGH" at the first page of prose, looked at the author photo and went "You've GOT to be kidding me," and persevered and ending up loving it.


message 22: by Elizabeth (new) - added it

Elizabeth I should say, I loved it warts & all. It's not flawless by any means. But I still loved it.


Sabrina I love your review, I felt the same about several things you mentioned! I loved the book.


Annelien haha, this could be my exact review!


Mihaela My thoughts exactly :) Agree with you 100%


Libby Hah! I also had to look at the author picture and I had the same "oh geez" reaction. Then I proceeded to read the book within 2 days and liked it. Glad to know I wasn't the only one.


KatieEmma oh shut up


Raul Santiago & Julio Pena The Help is not deemed "Great Literature"? What is great literature? I haven't read The Help but I'm confused now. Is Great Literature anything that isn't wildly successful?


Sabreen Wow. Nice review. You pretty much articulated what I felt about this book..


Marte Isn't judging someone by their skin color a tad bit racist? If an African-American had written the book, included the "white" character Skeeter, would you have said the same then? :/


message 31: by Sabreen (last edited May 11, 2014 05:43PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sabreen Marte wrote: "Isn't judging someone by their skin color a tad bit racist? If an African-American had written the book, included the "white" character Skeeter, would you have said the same then? :/"

Marte, I don't feel like Joe was judging Stockett by her skin color. The straight facts are: Stockett is white. The characters in her book are not. Therefore she can't possibly understand their struggle.

There's no such thing as racism against white people. Is there "classism" against rich people? No, because rich people (and white people) already have the upper hand.


message 32: by A (new) - rated it 3 stars

A M Joe, your review captured EXACTLY how I felt reading this book. Especially the part when you were yelling at yourself to not like it ... those were words taken right out of my own brain!! Thanks for your review, I agree with it 100%.


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