aka YA Literature

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Help

Even though many people (all women) told me how much they loved The Help by Kathryn Stockett, it just didn't sound like my cup of tea. There are so many YA romances and dystopias for me to read! But I bought a paperback copy in England for the plane ride when I had run through all the books I'd brought with me. I started reading it when we boarded, and I only stopped when (a) they served a meal and (b) I finished. It was fantastic. I'm not recommending it to all my students (my male sci-fi/fantasy fans probably wouldn't be into it), but there are a lot of teen readers I am recommending it to. I'm planning to convince my sophomore English teachers to use it as one of their lit circle choices too.

Set in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1962, the chapters follow three main characters: Eugenia ("Skeeter"), Aibileen, and Minny. Aibileen and Minny are both African American women who work as maids in the homes of young middle class white women. Skeeter is a young privileged white woman who has just graduated from college and is living at home with her parents while she searches for a job in journalism. All her other friends (including Aibileen's employer) apparently dropped out of college long ago to get married and are already mothers. Skeeter starts to question the arrangement of society and to wonder about the personal lives of the maids when her best friend Hilly initiates a campaign to have separate bathrooms installed in white houses just for "the help" so that the white families won't have to share their bathrooms.

There are some issues with the book (ex. Is Hilly too two-dimensionally evil? In a book purportedly about the lives of the maids, does Skeeter's story and moral discomfort take over the narrative?), but it's still engrossing and worthwhile. And I think these kinds of questions are what make the book great for lit circles. Skeeter's relative youth and struggles with her parents (she loves them at the same time that she disagrees with them and is trying to create a measure of independence for herself) make it something I think teens can relate to as well.

Holly and Cody, you have to read this. I used the UK cover of the book because I like it better than the US version. The UK photo is from the Library of Congress archives. What do birds have to do with anything?


Anonymous said...

This sounds good. I was wary of reading it because of the issues you describe--would a book about "the help" but written from the perspective of a privileged white woman be able to avoid making it All About The White Lady?--but I might pick this up after all.

Cody said...

I read it a few months ago and loved it! I think I actually prefer the US cover...it's more abstract than the UK version.

Want some chocolate pie?

Holly said...

I read it last summer and really enjoyed it. It was very thought-provoking. I am interested to see how it translates to film.