The Help – Kathryn Stockett

Posted 23 November, 2011 by Trish in Reading Nook, Review / 15 Comments


Title: The Help
Author: Kathryn Stockett
Published: 2009; Pages: 444
Duration: 18 hours, 7 minutes
Narrators: Octavia Spencer, Bahni Turpin, Jenna Lamia
Genre: Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5

Whew it feels good to hit “Publish Post” on this puppy! I’ve had this draft sitting amongst my posts since April of this year. Since then I’ve also listened to the audiobook and seen the movie–can’t see to get enough!

The Help in short: Set in Mississippi during the 1960s, Skeeter Phelan, a recent college graduate who is looking to write something that will make a difference, interviews black maids on what it is like working for white families. Told from Skeeter’s perspective as well as the perspective of two of the maids, Aibileen and Minnie.

Why I read/listened to The Help: After telling so many people that they needed to read this book (based on your recommendations), I picked up a copy for myself and finally read with my mom and sister. I loved reading the book at the same time as them and hearing their feedback. I listened to the audiobook several months after reading the book because of the rave reviews.

Following my recent pattern of Q&A book posts

Elise: Did you find the story predictable? If yes, did it change your overall thoughts on the book…I have a hard time considering it amazing or the best book ever when I could totally see where it was going. But maybe that shouldn’t matter?

When I started The Help, I didn’t know very much about the story even though I had recommended it to several people and gave it as gifts to a few others. In fact, the only thing that I did know was that the book had alternating narrators and was set in the American south during the 1960s. Predictability doesn’t always bother me unless there is a twist in the story that I see coming a mile away, but I honestly don’t remember if I found The Help to be predictable or not. I do think that it’s easy to see where this story is headed, but it didn’t affect my enjoyment. For me the enjoyment of this book came more from the character development than the plot development.

In terms of it mattering whether you find a book predictable or not, I do think that sometimes it can affect how much you enjoy a story! Definitely something to ponder, but I wonder if this has more to do with what makes us enjoy a book in the first place or why we read. Hmmm…  sometimes a book can be so overhyped that it is easy to feel let down when you don’t find the book to be the best book over. That’s happened to me several times and that’s why I try to go into each reading with as blank a slate as possible.

Laura: I would like you to draw a Venn diagram for The Help paper book, audio book, and movie. :) Just kidding about the Venn diagram, but I would like your thoughts on the differences/what you liked/what you didn’t like about the different mediums.

Oh how I wish I could draw up a pretty little Venn diagram for you! Basically I loved all of the different mediums. The book was a little tough to get into, especially as its begins with a heavily dialectic narrative of one of the maids, but once I became use the rhythm of the book I found it difficult to put down. “One more section” was a common thought as I was reading The Help. I listened to The Help months after I read the book, mainly because the movie was coming out and I had heard such wonderful reviews of the audiobook. Hands down it was one of the best audio productions I’ve listened to. Stockett does such a wonderful job of drawing her characters and this became really apparent through the spoken version of the novel.

When I first saw the movie trailer for The Help I was afraid that the movie would be Hollywoodized and make light of the very serious topics in the book. Even though the trailer felt bubbly, and there were moments when the movie was bubbly, there were so many times in the movie when I had a pit in my stomach as the seriousness of racism and the Jim Crow laws and discrimination during the 60s was portrayed. I’ve heard people describe The Help as “so much fun,” but I disagree. When one looks past all of the faults of The Help (see controversy paragraphs below), the meat of the book crawls under your skin and makes you yearn to challenge the status quo even when it is not popular.

Anna said: I’d love to hear what you thought of The Help, especially given all the controversy when the movie came out.

Boy do I live under a rock! I wasn’t aware of the controversy until your comment. Thanks for pointing me to this post with some of the controversy. I’m sure I’m missing many of the points, but basically people are saying that The Help should not be read as historical fiction and that Stockett, a white author, took too many liberties by writing from the perspective of black maids during the 1960s. White woman saves the day. That’s the gist, right?

I think that these statements can be very troubling in so many respects. I typed up big long paragraphs about my thoughts on this but nothing I typed adequately portrayed the conflicted feelings I have on this topic. One of the points made in the post referenced above is authenticity and frankly I believe that true authenticity is hard to come by. (not trying to be dodgy, promise).

please define historical fiction for me), but shouldn’t every reader make it her responsibility to learn the facts or at least not make sweeping generalizations based on a single book she read? Though as with reading about any subject one is not familiar with, some will take the time to learn more about the subject and some won’t.


Bottom Line: Absolutely recommend. The Help will make you laugh and it will make you cry. Get your hands on the audio if you can—the performances are absolutely fantastic, especially Octavia Spencer as Minnie.

So…what did you think?

PS—I’m really liking how easy this Q&A format makes posting about books (even if it does make my posts much longer than normal). If you have any questions you’d like to ask about Percy Jackson (books 1 and 2), Crooked Letter Crooked Letter, or At Home, please leave me questions below!

15 Responses to “The Help – Kathryn Stockett”

  1. I’ve heard a lot of great things about this book too but somehow I am still not convinced I should read it. I didn’t know there was a controversy surrounding the movie.

    I guess I’ll take your suggestion and try out the audio book someday and see if I like it.

  2. You made me giggle when you mentioned recommending it to others before reading it. I’ve done that too when something sounds good to me and bloggers I trust have really liked it :)

  3. This is one of the best audiobooks I’ve listened to, though I can’t say I have listened to many. Was also my first.

    I sort of disregarded the controversy and also allowed for the “stereotyping” – I felt overall it achieved a net positive, I think, for people who read it. I had read some posts about the use of the “Magic Negro,” etc. But the people I know who read it, both white and black, and saw the movie, really were impacted by it and got a general truth of discrimination from that era. I think that made sense.

    Neat format! I haven’t stopped by here enough lately. :)

  4. I keep thinking I should read this and then going back and forth about picking it up. Obviously I should give it a whirl.

  5. I still haven’t read the book despite all the rave reviews and the release of the movie. I need to remedy that!!

    Happy Thanksgiving, Trish! :)

  6. I did like the book, but skipped the movie. In most cases, I like to preserve the images my own brain comes up with while I’m reading.

  7. Les

    I read the ARC back in March 2009. I thought it was one of the best novels I’d ever read and gave it a 5/5 rating. In February 2010, I listened to the audio version and gave it a perfect 5/5. You said, “Hands down it was one of the best audio productions I’ve listened to. Stockett does such a wonderful job of drawing her characters and this became really apparent through the spoken version of the novel.” I couldn’t agree with you more. And I have to tell you, listening to that final chapter with Aibileen and MaMoblee (sp?) just about did me in. I bawled like I did at the end of The Book Thief. Man, oh man.

    My daughter and I saw the movie this past summer and like you, I was worried that it would be too sweet and “Hollywoodized,” especially after seeing the trailer. I shouldn’t have worried. It was incredible.

    I truly believe that The Help will become a classic in the same vein as To Kill A Mockingbird. I can’t imagine what Stockett could write next that would come close to half as good as this debut novel.

  8. *Diane – I was really pleased with the movie—thought the entire production was great! Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving.

    *Violet – The audiobook is really fantastic!! A great way to experience this book. Hope you like it if you do get to it.

    *ReviewsbyLola – Despite all of the “controversy,” I’ve seen very few people who didn’t like this one. Glad you did too!!

    *Terri B – Isn’t that funny that we recommend books that we haven’t actually read ourselves? I’ve done that several times and each time when I finally get around to the book I wonder why I waited so long!

    *CGLnyc – You picked a great audiobook to start with Chris! And I absolutely agree with your point about achieving the net positive. What I found really interesting is that the blog post that I linked to above, the poster hadn’t read the book. Sometimes I think people just go looking for ways to stir the pot.

    *Trisha – I hope you like The Help when/if you read it, but I definitely don’t think you’re alone in having reservations.

    *Melody – I think that sometimes a book can be TOO hyped. That’s part of the reason why I stayed away from it for so long. Hope you enjoy it if you get to it!

    *Kailana – So glad you liked the book Kelly! I can’t believe that I waited so long to actually get to it.

    *Softdrink – I’m usually the same way about movie adaptations of books that I really enjoyed—but if I have enough time between reading and watching then I can usually separate the two in my mind. Definitely some differences between the movie and book for The Help!

    *Bermudaonion – I didn’t find the dialect too jarring, but it took a chapter or two to get the rhythm down. I’ve seen a lot of criticism about Stockett, a white author, using the dialect that she did for Aibileen and Minnie. Did you listen to the book?

    *Les – Oh, so many parts with Aibileen and May Mobley that just rip your heart out—there were so many times when I just had to hug the book to my chest because of the emotion. I’m so glad that you enjoyed all of the different productions as much as I did. Thought they did a fantastic job adapting the movie from the book. It really is difficult to imagine how The Help could be topped, huh?

  9. Oh Percy Jackson Book 1!!1 Loved it! Another series I need to get back to :)

    The Help sounds like a great and interesting read. controversy aside it didn’t bring topics to the forefront that should be discussed, right?

  10. I love the picture that you took. It is awesome.

    I had no idea that there was any controversy over this book. huh?

    I never did see the movie, but I loved, loved, loved this book. I ust see before too long.

    I recommended The History of Love to people before I read it too.

  11. This was an amazing audiobook. I listened to it in the evenings two summers ago while I was gardening and was absolutely heartbroken when it was over. I felt like I’d lost extremely close friends and had no clue how to continue gardening without them.