Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Review: How Three Women Change the South

My favorite source of book recommendations suggested I read The Help by Kathryn Stockett because its style is reminiscent of Keith Maillard's Gloria, our favorite book ever. Once I started this book, I could not put it down--and any bookworm knows that is a very fulfilling feeling while reading a book.

This is Stockett's first novel and the premier book published by Amy Einhorn Books, a recently launched imprint of Penguin Books. Stockett tells the story in first-person perspective through three women: Aibileen, a black maid; Minny, another maid and Aibileen's best friend; and Skeeter, who has just graduated from Ole Miss. It's 1962 in Jackson, Mississippi, and civil rights seem to be on everyone's mind...everywhere else in the country besides Jackson. Skeeter isn't your average cotton trust fund baby. She didn't go to college to find a husband--she wants to be a writer, and she's discontent with the lifestyle in Jackson. When a New York City publisher tells Skeeter to write about something that matters, she's inspired to write about the experience of black maids working for white families. She enlists the help of Aibileen, Minny, and others and begins a dangerous project that questions the "lines that define their town and their times."

This story is both heartbreaking and hilarious as the author paints a vivid picture of the South pre-Civil Rights. Stockett does an excellent job of creating a realistic voice for each of her three characters. Aibileen, Minny, and Skeeter each have a unique story to tell, and the reader learns the intimate details of all three lives. I found while reading that I would pull for each of them, as the author created three very likable, albeit very different, characters. As I mentioned in my previous post about Best Friends, I love books with detailed character development, and this one fit the bill. The main difference with this one is that the novel actually has a clear plot, told from alternating perspectives of its main characters, which I find to be less common in books that delve deep into its characters. It was definitely a pleasant surprise, and while I didn't want the story to end, I was satiated when I finished because the story had a conclusion.

The author's inspiration came from her own childhood; she grew up in Jackson, where every white family had black help, and it was just assumed that the rest of the country lived the same way. Being from the South myself, this book had a particular draw for me, mostly from a historical perspective. History books tell me how things were before Civil Rights changed race relations in the South, and I can find the evidence of it or hear about it from my parents; but it's usually hard for me to believe, because it's a side of the South I have never seen, nor experienced. Life at this particular moment in history is usually clearly defined as a certain way (as things generally are when viewed from a distance) and that way is defined by the strong racism by whites against blacks. But this book shows another side, one that includes more personal experience than retrospective fact. Life isn't as clear as black and white; relationships can have a gray area; love can exist with hate; and the old lines that define society can be crossed. This was a highly engrossing read that led me to brush up on American history, and one that I highly recommend.


Salvatore said...

So what's your favourite book recommendation source? This book sounds big.

Kari said...

It's my friend Laurie, a librarian I worked with in high school.

Dreamybee said...

Very thoughtful review. I saw your comment on Softdrink's review, and came over here to see what you thought. I've also just posted a review of The Help and I added a link to your review.

One of the things that I was curious about after having talked to other people about this book is how one's background might affect his or her response to this book. You said you were from the South-do you think your parents or your grandparents would have responded differently to this book?

Here's a link to my review


Benthemshoop said...

That sound cool and informative too I wanna read this novel as soon as possible my pleasure too found this information about the novel..!
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Bernard Atkinson said...

Very informative review.

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