Have you ever read a book and when you finished felt like the words on the pages will be a part of you for the rest of your life?
I have. The Help by Kathryn Stockett is definitely one of those books for me.
Now, this book is one that I didn’t really know about until the movie came out some years ago. When the movie hit theaters I had no clue it was based off of a book. So, I saw the movie and it was eye opening, heart wrenching, and at times, unbearable to watch. What sparked my interest in the movie was the fact that parts of the movie had been filmed in Jackson, Mississippi which is an hour and a half from where I grew up and also the setting of the book. Being a girl from small town in Mississippi, when you hear a movie is being filmed nearby it is definitely something to get excited about.
So, I watched the movie, loved it and never really gave much thought to reading the book. Since this is a book review I obviously changed my mind and gave the idea of reading it some thought. Why I decided to read it, I don’t quite recall why. However, I am very glad I did. This book by Kathryn Stockett is now one of my favorite books.
The book deals with racism during the 1960s and centers on Black maids who work for White families during the height of the Civil Rights Movement. Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan, a recent graduate of Ole Miss returns home after graduation and finds that the maid who raised her no longer resides in Mississippi. With no one offering up the details to her maid’s whereabouts, including her family she begins to ask around. The maids around her and her college friends are the ones she tries to find answers from. To no avail she lays the issue aside momentarily and tries to go about living life in her hometown as she had the years before, only now she realizes that she doesn’t find any joy in being in the same places she’d spent so many years.
Skeeter is a writer with some experience from her college newspaper. After applying for a position at Harper & Row in New York almost a year ago she gets a call and is offered a place in their company with the exception of gaining more experience and to write something worth reading. This is where the idea to write about maids’ experience working for White families comes into play. This is also where the proverbial stuff hits the fan. Things become dangerous, socially for the maids and even for Skeeter.
Overall, I give this book all the stars there are to give it. The Help hit close to home not only because the author is from Mississippi and the book is set in the beautiful state, but because I did not expect to feel so closely to the characters. I am obviously not old enough to have lived as a Black maid in the 60s of Civil Rights era Mississippi, however, growing up in Mississippi and seeing the invisible line that still separates races even on a small scale has left its mark on me. Being only 21 years old I can count the number of times I’ve experienced racism. I can list on my fingers the times I have been made to feel uncomfortable because of the color of my skin and they are moments not easily forgotten. In reading Stockett’s wonderful novel I feel a kinship to the maids in her book. I see parts of my lineage in a line of fictional Black women who struggled to make ends meet and spent more time caring for other families than for their own. I see the wisdom gained from years of experience etched into the face of my mother and as I read this book I could feel an indignation boiling underneath my skin at the injustice these women lived that reminds me far too much of what my great grandmother and great aunts could have possibly been through. I see myself even in Skeeter and know all too well the desire to leave a small, southern town for something that has to be better than where I was born.
Despite all of this, when I finished the book there was something that resonated within me that I hadn’t felt in a terribly long time for my home state. The feeling was pride. A pride in a a state, that at times can be a bit backwards, annoyingly small, and extremely White. Mississippi is a place I call home. Over the course of the last few years as I’ve been away at college I have learned not to be ashamed of saying Mississippi when people ask where I’m from and it is in reading books like The Help that enable me to answer with a head held high instead of shy mumble.
So, I completely and totally recommend that you read The Help by Kathryn Stockett and even watch or re-watch the movie. It is more than worth it. 🙂