Book Review: The Help

Set in the early 1960s in Jackson, Mississippi, Kathryn Stockett’s 2009 debut novel The Help is one of the funniest, most sincere and most effortless works of recent years.

The Help closely follows the stories of three women: Minny Jackson, Aibileen Clark and Skeeter Phelan. At a time where racism was still prominent, Stockett primarily focuses on the introduction of separate toilets for the black maids of white families. It is when Skeeter, a white woman with certain physical eccentricities, hears about the scheme her childhood friend Miss Hilly Holbrook wishes to introduce in Jackson that she takes it upon herself to do something.

Perhaps the most striking part of the novel is the extremely distinctive characters Stockett creates. Minny Jackson is a hilarious, sassy and extremely strong woman who will stand up to her white bosses when she feels the need, despite her mother telling her from a young age to never sass them unless she wants to be fired. By far the most appealing character in the book because of her large, domineering aura, Minny also has an unexpectedly tragic home life. However, Minny is not alone as her best friend Aibileen is her conscience and shoulder to cry on at the end of the novel. It is also Aibileen who is largely responsible for the black community of Jackson’s involvement in Skeeter’s project which shakes the lives of the prejudiced town. Aibileen’s best quality, though, is her big heart. It is the heart she has used to raise many white children, including Mae Mobley, whose story is utterly heart breaking.

Stockett’s novel itself is about a woman who wants to write a book telling the stories of the help with Skeeter Phelan determined to make a change in her community. Skeeter wants to be able to help the women who raise white people’s children, especially as Constantine, her maid and mother-like figure, vanished while she was at university. Despite Skeeter’s eagerness throughout the novel, Stockett doesn’t allow her book about the help to come easily to her as there are numerous obstacles along the way. Stockett makes sure that there is a challenge for a white woman in the ’60s and tracks the hesitance the help have about sharing the stories of the families they have worked for in a book – especially when the Ku Klux Klan are murdering black people on the streets – and the hesitance of her book publisher, Elaine Stein.

The Help manages to be such a great work of literature because of the humour that effortlessly runs through the veins of the novel. Stockett’s careful precision with her characters makes the novel so easy to read and both laugh and cry along with – even when you really shouldn’t be laughing. If you liked To Kill A Mockingbird, it is almost guaranteed that you’ll like The Help.