** spoiler alert **
I took a few days to think about this book, before I wrote this review. I think because I am teetering between a three star review and a four star review. I have been trying to separate all the voices in my head and really get out how I felt. Sometimes, its hard being what feels like the last person in the world to read such a well-loved book. I think that was one of the reasons I continued to hesitate, because what if it does not live up to the hype. For about the first two hundred pages, I felt I was missing something, which of course was living up to my fear. I wasn't connecting with the characters and it was a bit predictable. In addition I was dealing with the voices of my students. After teaching, To Kill A Mockingbird this year, teaching an extensive Harlem Renaissance unit , and watching my students struggle with the desire to find a strong African-American role model, rather than delve deeper into a history of racism and torment, this book was perhaps coming at the wrong time. So I needed to separate myself from all these voices, now that I sound crazy, and touch on what I really think.
I enjoyed the story and the message. It reminded me of To Kill A Mockingbird, but perhaps with more hope. It is emotionally hard to read a novel in which one race of people are as dehumanized as they are in this book. It's even worse when you consider that most of this was true and perhaps still is true. I have not really had to witness this first hand and cannot even imagine the responses of the readers who live in the South and have lived through any aspects of this book. I can only take the view of a young woman living in NJ.
**************Spoilers Present Below************
I stated before, that I wasn't as drawn into the book in the beginning, but I would still say that I always enjoyed the story. I generally enjoy narratives that are written by several points of view, if they are done well, and I felt this one was done well. I also did think of Aibeleen and Minny as strong, likable, characters. Both in terms of how they were written and the role they played in the novel. Their decision to take place in the writing of the book, with the consideration of even the possibility of what could happen to them, was brave. I don't think the characters ever fully understood the extent of the potential repercussions, though the climatic backdrop was set up well for the reader.
It took me a bit longer to warm up to Skeeter. I am not sure I was entirely convinced she was doing this for the right reasons. While she made decisions in the book that seemed progressive, she always seemed to stand behind some sort of anonymity. She didn't ever actually admit anything, except to Stuart. I understand the danger, but clearly, the maids were putting themselves in more danger, for her to stand in the background and say I heard the writer was anonymous and then ultimately disappear. I also was never completely sold on her motivations. I feel she was empathetic, and it was never about the money. But I cannot be entirely convinced that if there was not an equally compelling topic to get herself noticed as a writer, that she would not have taken the other option. I feel it was not as much about the particular subject as it was finding something to get herself ahead in her career. Though I do feel she came to understand the importance of her topic and became more passionate about it. In general though, she seemed to be the weaker of the three women, because even in her own life she didn't stand up for herself. She continued going back to Stuart and she never stood up to her mother, or to her (ex) friends for that matter.
Overall, I felt it was a well-written book, with strong characters, and a positive message about a subject matter certainly difficult to write about. I felt Stockett did a wonderful job demonstrating the spectrum of the experiences. The impact at the end, did feel a little glossed over, considering the level of emotion in the rest of the book. Still as I finish the review, I am still between a three and a four star rating, but for a work of fiction it was an enjoyable story and worth the read.