four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
44-Jan-Feb-2010
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0

A-The HelpKathryn Stockett was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi. She earned a degree in English and Creative Writing from the University of Alabama. The Help is her first novel.

The Story: In 1962, Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan, a recent Ole Miss grad, returns to her parents' home in Jackson, Mississippi. Eager to put her new English degree to use, she convinces two black maids to secretly share their stories about raising white children. Aibileen, wise and maternal, has nurtured 17 of the town's children from infancy, but she is forbidden from using the family bathroom in case she spreads disease. Aibileen's best friend, Minny, has lost countless jobs because she can't keep her opinions to herself. Narrated by these three distinct voices, The Help explores the curious dynamic between white women in the Deep South and the black women who raised their children.
Putnam. 451 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 9780399155345

Christian Science Monitor 4 of 5 Stars
"A book driven by guilt could have been mawkish, but Stockett's ear for both outrage and humor and her earnest efforts to correct stereotypes pay off--despite her decision to convey only black voices in dialect, with nary a dropped ‘g' among her generally less sympathetic Southern white characters. By addressing not just injustice but the ‘inexplicable love' that flourishes between servants and their employers, The Help arouses both admiration and indignation." Heller McAlpin

Entertainment Weekly 4 of 5 Stars
"Kathryn Stockett's debut novel, The Help, could have turned out goofily earnest or shamefully offensive. Instead, it's graceful and real, a compulsively readable story of three women who watch the Mississippi ground shifting beneath their feet as the words of men like Martin Luther King Jr. and Bob Dylan pervade their genteel town." Karen Valby

USA Today 4 of 5 Stars
"Skeeter's coming of age, the bitter seed of resentment growing in Aibileen and Minny and the heartless cruelty of one of Jackson's ‘outstanding' citizens allows Stockett to build a novel whose heartbeat is injustice, indignation and cultural change. Her pitch-perfect depiction of a country's gradual path toward integration will pull readers into a compelling story that doubles as a portrait of a country struggling with racial issues." Carol Memmott

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"In a page-turner that brings new resonance to the moral issues involved, she spins a story of social awakening as seen from both sides of the American racial divide. ... Aibileen and Minny share the narration with Skeeter, and one of Stockett's accomplishments is reproducing African American vernacular and racy humor without resorting to stilted dialogue." Sybil Steinberg

New York Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[Y]ou will see, after your wrestling match with this problematic but ultimately winning novel, that when it comes to the love-hate familial bond between Ms. Stockett and her subject matter, she's telling the truth. ... Book groups armed with hankies will talk and talk about their quiet bravery and the outrageous insults dished out by their vain, racist employers." Janet Maslin

Critical Summary

In writing about such a troubled time in American history, Southern-born Stockett takes a big risk, one that paid off enormously. Critics praised Stockett's skillful depiction of the ironies and hypocrisies that defined an era, without resorting to depressing or controversial clichés. Rather, Stockett focuses on the fascinating and complex relationships between vastly different members of a household. Additionally, reviewers loved (and loathed) Stockett's three-dimensional characters--and cheered and hissed their favorites to the end. Several critics questioned Stockett's decision to use a heavy dialect solely for the black characters. Overall, however, The Help is a compassionate, original story, as well as an excellent choice for book groups.