Friday, July 27, 2012

THE HELP by Kathryn Stockett

I'm ashamed to say I saw the movie first and then read the book.  I don't usually do that, but when THE HELP first came out, I shrugged it off as just another "grown-up" book I didn't have time to read. 

The movie was fantastic!  I laughed and cried my way through it, probably embarrassing myself, but fortunately went with some understanding friends and my daughter who expects me to become too emotionally involved.  With that said, I decided I should take the time to read the book. 

If you haven't heard about it or seen the movie, here is a brief summary.

It's the early 1960's.  A young Mississippi white woman returns home from college and gets a job writing a household hints column for the local newspaper.  Since Skeeter was raised in a white household with a black maid, she doesn't have a clue about cooking and cleaning.  She approaches the maid of one of her friends and asks for advice. 

Each time she talks with Aibileen she discovers more and more reasons to admire the thankless work these black women do for totally ungrateful white women.  For Skeeter the newspaper column is just temporary.  Her dream is to become a full-fledged journalist and some day write a book.  That day seems to be coming sooner than she thinks as she contemplates the idea of telling the stories of the these hardworking, dedicated family servants.

Aibileen reluctantly agrees to share her stories with Skeeter and over time convinces other maids to share their experiences.  This simple idea seems harmless, but Skeeter recognizes that the more these women share the good and the bad of working for white families, the more danger there is.  If they are discovered they could not only lose their jobs but risk the safety of themselves and their families.

Author Kathryn Stockett alters voices as Skeeter, Aibileen and another maid named Minny share their stories.  Set in the midst of the Civil Rights movement, there are shocking moments, disgusting behaviors, heart-wrenching events, and laugh-out-loud antics that reveal the life and times of Jackson, Mississippi during the early 60's and before.  Now, having read the book, I can say I believe the movie did the work justice.  With each scene I could visualize the events unfolding just as they did on the big screen.  My compliments to the director and screenwriter.

As a last comment I will include the fact that I will be teaching 9th grade English for the first time in my 34 year teaching career, and I am thrilled to say that I will be including THE HELP in my curriculum.  I've decided it will be a perfect follow-up to TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and will provide another take on an important part of U.S. history.

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