Thursday, December 17, 2009

Book Review: The Help

My Minneapolis book club met up earlier this month to discuss our 2nd book. I got to pick the book and the location. I had heard so many good things about The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, so that was my selection for the month. For the location, I picked Cafe Maude, a restaurant in the Armatage neighborhood of south Minneapolis (one of my favorite areas of south Minneapolis). I had been wanting to check that restaurant out for a long time - it's nice that this book club now gives us all an excuse to check out new places. If you live in the area or visit Minneapolis, I think it's a great place to check out. It's very cozy, the decor is awesome, and they often feature live music by local artists!!

Anyways, onto the book. The Help is set in Jackson, Mississippi in 1962. One of the main characters, Skeeter, has just moved home from college and is trying to figure out what to do with her life. She aspires to be an author but none of her book suggestions are appealing to a New York City book editor she contacts - the editor tells her she needs to come up with a topic that hasn't been written about.

Skeeter was essentially raised by their house keeper, Constantine, who mysteriously disappeared while Skeeter was away at college. In an effort to find out what happened to Constantine, she gets to know the other African American women in the area who worked as house keepers and nannies for affluent citizens of Jackson, Mississippi. Skeeter then becomes inspired by their stories - some of the stories are very uplifting, but many of the stories are heart-breaking. She is so moved by the stories of these women, she decides to write a book, "The Help", that will tell the stories of these hard-working women who are so often treated unfairly.

Since racial tensions created a tenuous environment in Jackson, Mississippi during this time, she had to write the book in secret, make up the name of the city where the stories take place, and have it published anonymously. She risks her life and loses many friendships while writing this book, but the stories she has to tell are so moving and compelling, she knows the risks she is taking are worth it.

I thought this book was really well written. It was the first novel for Stockett, but I never would have guessed that had I not known. It was interesting to read a novel set during this time. It's weird to think that my parents were in their teens during this time. They of course were pretty far removed since they lived in North Dakota - one of the least racially diverse states in the country - but I am sure they were still shaped by the events that were going on at this time. It's pretty amazing to see how far our country has come since the 60s. This book definitely makes you think about the courage required to stand up for those who weren't able to speak for themselves. It's really easy to look back and think that you would have done the same, but this book definitely makes you think about the danger associated with speaking out and standing up for something that was unpopular at the time.

My only criticism of the book is that it ended very abruptly. It almost felt like the author had a page limit and realized she needed to wrap it up in about 20 pages. She could almost do a sequel to the book - I definitely finished the book wondering what would happen to a few of the main characters.

Our next book that we'll discuss in January is "Downtown Owl" by Chuck Klosterman. I am sure excited to read this book because Chuck Klosterman is from my tiny hometown -AND he was good friends with my brother. Have you heard of him? He's written some very popular books, has written for Spin magazine, and has even interviewed Britney Spears for Esquire magazine. So this small town boy has gone quite far! Oh, and Downtown Owl is loosely based on real events that took place in my tiny town back in the day. I can't wait to read it and figure out who he is referring to in the story!!

Have you read any good books lately? If so, do tell! I am always looking to expand my to-read list!!


I'maNolaGirl said...

Great review. We are reading this for my book club too!!

Emily Jane said...

I'd add any Neil Gaiman to your list! "Neverwhere" is my favourite and when I first read it, I never would've guessed it was his first, either.

What else... Ursula LeGuin's "The Lathe of Heaven" was really good too :)

Mandy said...

I have this book on order from the library. I am really looking forward to reading it. Right now I'm reading Dogtown: Death and Enchantment in A New England Ghost Town by Elyssa East. I just started it last night but I am hoping I really enjoy it.

Allison Blass said...

I just finished reading The Time Traveler's Wife, which was great, and definitely a tear-jerker, but SO confusing and... yeah.

A few of my fave books that I've read recently are:
1) Eat, Pray, Love
2) Life of Pi
3) Olive Kitteridge
4) Omnivore's Dilemma
5) Water for Elephants

If you read of any of these, let me know!

I am trying to start a book club too. How did you do it? Or did someone else start it?


Amber said...

I REALLY enjoyed The Help, too. I think that Stockett did a wonderful job with the characters.

I totally agree that it ended abruptly. I kind of think her point was that the book didn't really change a whole lot for those women, maybe?

I thought it was interesting when I read in the back of the book that Stockett had grown up in Jackson and had an African American housekeeper as well when she was growing up.

It really is crazy to think of how far things have come, hey?

Anais said...

That's so cool, I didn't know that you were in a book club! :D

I'll add this book (and your next one) to my "to read" list. As for any good books... I read In Her Shoes (which was okay) and now I'm reading Wicked.

Anonymous said...

Gosh, Irish read all things Klostermann! I haven't touched his work but I have heard nothing but good things about him.

I'm reading "Up in the Air," right now since the movie comes out next week. It's rather dry. But also strangely interesting.

Next up on the list is "Dear John," by Nicholas Sparks (don't laugh) because it too is going to be a movie and I have a rule about book before movie. I definitely have to see this movie because it's Tatum Channing and I think he is H-O-T!

I'm also strugglin to finish my Japanese book by Jan 1st. Not sure if I can make it!

Kyla said...

I'm reading The Sweetness At The Bottom Of The Pie right now, it's about an 1 year old detective solving a murder- it's *amazing*

Definitely recommend it!

ps - How did you go about finding a book club? I want one but have no idea where to start.

Nicole said...

I too have heard good things about this book. It's really weird for me to think that my parents were alive while this was going on. I always just think of it as the distant past.

Oh, and I'd have to agree with the people that say you could sell your knit projects on Etsy. But I totally understand about length of time. The projects I'm doing right now can be done in just a couple hours. But I also have a scarf that I've been working on forever.

Kelly said...

I have been wanting to read this book for awhile but thanks for the review it made me want to read it more haha

Anonymous said...

I LOVED Downtown Owl- it's neat that your brother was one of his friends.

The Many Thoughts of a Reader said...

I want to read this as well. I am currently reading Gosspi Girl. :)

Marlys said...

You will enjoy "Night Owl" and as I read it, would read aloud snippets to your Dad, and we knew exactly who he was talking about! Anyone from a small town will understand this book, and if not, you will find out what life is like in the "outback"! Chuck got married this fall in Minneapolis!

Shoshanah said...

I have seen a lot of people read this book, but I had no idea what it was about. Now that I do, I think its something I would enjoy reading at some point.