Penguin Books, www.penguin.com.au/
Strong characterisation; insight into 1960s America
Doesn’t delve into the bigger issues
New in the iBookstore, The Help is, in short, an uplifting novel with a relevant message. Set during America’s 1960s civil rights movement, journalist Eugenia ‘Skeeter’ Phelan decides to write a book chronicling the experiences of African- American maids; their perspectives on the white families they work for, the adversities they face and the resulting struggles endured on a daily basis.
You may have already seen or heard of the film adaptation of the same name (it was a four-time nominee at this year’s Academy Awards), but it’s worth checking out the book as well.
Like most book-to-film adaptations, the story is better detailed in the literary narrative, which is appropriate given the prevalence of the themes it touches on.
Skeeter, a recent university graduate, moves back to her parents’ plantation in Mississippi only to discover that her childhood maid has left without saying goodbye. And no one will tell her why. This is the first incident that sparks growing concern for Skeeter, amid mounting tension between the racial communities.
Skeeter does not believe in the hierarchy that segregates white from black, and wants to change this. She believes that giving a voice to the black community will help break years of fixed beliefs and social ignorance – but she faces strong opposition.
Despite the serious nature of the plot, the novel is peppered with humour and heart- warming moments. To author Kathryn Stockett’s credit, her portrayal of the characters doesn’t try to sway the reader into hating the white community, or pitying the black and you realise, in the reading, that the characters are merely a product of the time in which they lived.
A standout personality in the book is Aibileen Clark – a middle-aged nanny who helps Skeeter with the secret writing project, though she doubts that it will have any impact.
“Miss Skeeter asking don’t I wanna change things, like changing Jackson, Mississippi gone be like changing a lightbulb.’
Clark is a character you want to know – her struggles are ones you instinctively want to fight.
The overarching humanity of the women is what makes this story worth reading. Stockett doesn’t gloss over the prejudice, though at times the ‘warm and fuzzy’ factor can get a bit too much.
Even still, The Help is a relevant book for both genders of all ages and cultures; it offers an insight into a part of history that was brutally real and journals the uprising of a movement that fought back and created change. A ‘food for thought’ novel, if ever there was one.