Monday, July 25, 2011

50 Books in a Year: Book #31 The Help

I don't really know how to talk about what I feel about this book. I didn't like this book, the thing is I also didn't dislike the book. Hmmm...maybe I'll just break it down into parts:

Things I like about The Help:
1. The story
Oh...I bet if we talked to any person who was "The Help" in the 60s, they would have such wonderful stories to tell and I believe they would be just as rich and diverse as the stories in this book. What a great, refreshing idea for a book!
2. Mae Mobley and Skeeter
Because we get to see Mae Mobley grow into a little girl, I grew to like her. I like that, although she is crying at the end of the book, she's going to be OK and we know it because of the moment she shares with Aibileen..."You is kind. You is smart. You is important." And, Skeeter, well, Skeeter is just so real that you have to love her. I find it interesting that she really isn't a strong person (she really is a woman of her culture) in the sense that we aren't going to see her at a rally, and she would marry out of duty over love, but she does see things through and she is passionate about people. I would love to meet either of these characters.
3. The setting (place and time period)
I love learning about American History, especially when it is about or enhances my knowledge of African-American culture. I also find it most interesting to read about the Civil Rights Movement, what a passionate part of America's culture.

Things I dislike about The Help:
1. The inconsistent and sometimes down-right offensive dialect
I don't like how the African-American dialect is stereotypical and really does phase in and out at inappropriate intervals. It is not consistent and detracts from the reading of the book. Frankly, just a few bits here and there would have been appropriate and we would have gotten the idea. This is not Uncle Tom's Cabin and doesn't need to be written as such, not to mention that this dialect would have been prevalent in not just the African-American community and it didn't seem to be that the dialect that is "The South" could be seen as strongly in any of the White (there I said it!) characters and that was irksome and made me feel a little bit angry while reading.
2. Each character is stereotypical and unoriginal in action and description...OK, so that seems a bit harsh, let me explain...
All the white people, even Skeeter acted how I assume and have seen people in The South act in the 60s in movies or shows or books. And, all the Black people are what I feel stereotypical Black people are, you know when you read about them and don't know them, even Minny. Everything just seemed too black and white and perfect, where's the gray? Where's more of Hilly being that perfect mother, so I'm conflicted about why I hate her? All of these characters stay in the homes in which the author has created them...and, because of that I don't really learn anything I didn't already know about The South in the 60s, even the death of Medgar Evers was sterilized and perfectly trimmed. Let's just say I didn't feel uncomfortable about anything the characters were doing, and, well, I should have!
3. The setting (place and time period)
So much could have been done and was not. I understand that the author stated that she dislikes people writing about her beloved Mississippi unless they are from there. I don't like reading about such a sensitive period in American History without feeling some of the burn and the burden. I don't like that most of the people I talk to who have read this book mention all the anecdotal stories (the pie, the toilets, the drunken wife), when there is so much more that wasn't flushed out enough for people to talk about (the child abuse, the treatment of women, Jim Crow). This book is Civil Rights-lite for those people who want to talk about it as some sort of background to tea and cake...that rubs me the wrong way.

What it amounts to is...I can think of several books and movies (Corrina, Corrina for one) that are in the same genre and do a better job of rendering characters and setting better than this one. But, the darned story is so good that I can't wait to watch the movie, as I'm sure, with such great actors, most of the things I find wrong with the book will be fixed and ring a little truer.

3 Stars


  1. I couldn't get past the first five pages because of the dialect. It was just too thick and forced and really, dialect is a spoken thing, not a written thing. That's why I'd much rather see the movie than read the book.

  2. It's good to see an honest, balanced review of this book that isn't just lots of gushing. I'm looking forward to reading it but do think it has been over-hyped.

  3. It's nice to read that someone else really picks up on authors writing styles. Through school, teachers often told me to "explain in more detail" Well when I'm reading a book and there are 3 pages describing what the room looks like, I actually skim those pages and don't really read it. Other authors somehow manage to describe the room in less than a paragraph yet leave you feeling like you can actually envision it. Nice review.



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