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July 23, 2012 / Rebecca Foss

Heartwarming and Controversial, Even Now

I’m not sure why, but it took me a little while to get through Kathryn Stockett’s, The Help. I think mostly because I have been pretty busy with other things.  Regardless of the time in which it took me to read this little gem, I will say it was extraordinary. Stockett has the uncanny ability to tell the tale of living in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960’s from the perspective of both white and black women.

After returning home from Ole Miss, “Skeeter” Phelan is anxious to begin life as a writer– the only problem is, she does not know what to write about. Through some encouragement to write about something she cares about, and the injustice she witnesses in her hometown of Jackson, she sets out to interview the help and tell their story.

Skeeter would embrace the courageousness of the first black maid to step forward, Aibileen, to tell her story, despite the risks. Minny soon follows in her friend’s footsteps and has a knack for recruiting other maids to join in their project after one of their own is sent to prison for theft. During a time when hate and racism were leading the charge in Jackson, it was difficult for these black maids to trust a white woman enough to tell her the truth. Fortunately, trust and friendship prevailed as they produced a book that touched many and shook up the town of Jackson.

During a time when our country was going through radical change with the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the shooting of Medgar Evers, and the teachings of Marting Luther King, Jr., the town of Jackson was fighting to keep “separate but equal” in full force. The bravery of all of the women involved in writing and contributing to a book that forced a town to open its eyes and view things differently was risky and rewarding at the same time.

I realize that when this book arrived on the New York Times bestseller list back in 2009, there was much controversy over the book and many thought Stockett wrote in a vernacular that seemed stereotypical and even suggested that her writing has racial undertones.  I disagree. Stockett uses her own background, weaving fact and fiction into a story that draws the reader into what life was really like living back in those times.  Adding this vernacular made this authentic and real where it could easily have been offensive had it been written differently. For a debut novel, she excels, writing about what she knows and creating strong characters that keep the reader rooting for them to succeed. This book made me laugh and cry and gave me a different perspective of some of the unimaginable things that occurred during the time. If you haven’t seen the movie yet– wait! Read the book first. It will be well worth it.

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