Monday, June 6, 2011

Another Helping Please...

I just finished The Help. Literally, 5 minutes ago. I couldn't wait to write that it's a must-read.

I have plans to put together a list in December of my favourite reads from the year.  The Help just skyrocketed up that list.

It is every bit as moving, poignant, humorous, and hopeful as promised... maybe even more so.

Now, I don't have a lot of first-hand experience with the issues being dealt with in the novel. Obviously I've never been a white lady in the 1960s, dealing with segregation. Add to that, I don't have any experience being on any end of racism in any era. I've never had a maid or "help" to look after me... Growing up my mother always made it quite clear that she was "not my maid." And yet, despite what would seem to make me completely disconnected from the events in the novel, I spent every page feeling all kinds of connections and emotions for all of the characters: white, black, young, old, men, and women... But mostly the women.

I felt a lot of myself in Skeeter Phelan, one of the story's leading ladies. She's fresh out of college and trying to figure things out in a really confusing time in her life... and history. She seems to be a very honestly written character, and after reading through the acknowledgements and other extra readings at the end of the novel I learned Skeeter seems to be largely based on the author, Kathryn Stockett.

Aibileen and Minny, the other two women in whose perspectives the story is told, gave me a lot to think about.

Aibileen, a black maid who loves to look after "her" white children, was so tender and loving it seemed I would read her pages with extra care.  And it was often Aibileen's chapters that would bring a tear to my eye, with her all tenderness.  I especially loved reading the passages about her and her "Baby Girl" Mae Mobley... like the time she taught the little girl all about Martian Luther King, from outer space, who no one liked because he was green.

Minny, despite the struggles and abuse in her life, brought some of the biggest laughs the novel offered.  Some of her one-liners can brighten up even the heaviest chapters: "I might as well be Little Stevie Wonder I am so blinded by that dress" (290). There's also a fantastic running-bit about the "Terrible Awful" thing she does to a boss involving a pie. But mostly, I think the fact that Minny is such a fiery and hilarious character, despite her troubles, says a lot about the kind of person I'd like to be. Something about when life hands you lemons...

The stories of all 3 women are woven together so perfectly that it makes it hard to understand why we were once all so separated... And in some ways, unfortunately, still are today. The Help is eye-opening and inspiring.  It's a novel I think I'd like to teach some day.  Or at least encourage my students to read themselves.

Maybe I've blabbered on for too long about this book, but I also feel like I haven't said enough. Maybe you should just read it for yourself. And I don't say this too often, but if you aren't going to read it, at least go watch the movie in August when it's released.

It's worth every penny spent and every minute spent reading.

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