About the Book...
Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.
Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.
Minny, Aibileen’s best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody’s business, but she can’t mind her tongue, so she’s lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.
Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.
In pitch-perfect voices, Kathryn Stockett creates three extraordinary women whose determination to start a movement of their own forever changes a town, and the way women—mothers, daughters, caregivers, friends—view one another. A deeply moving novel filled with poignancy, humor, and hope, The Help is a timeless and universal story about the lines we abide by, and the ones we don’t.
What makes a great book club selection? Great writing, compelling characters, conflict & heartbreak, redemption... The Help by Kathryn Stockett has all these elements! Just glancing through the book on the shelf, Kathryn's writing grabs you and holds you there to read just a little more. The 60's was a turbulent time in the south, with racial tensions & segregation, and the author takes pains to be authentic in writing about the times the three women of the story lived in, one in which the black maids took care of and virtually raised the children of their white employers, but could still be harassed when walking down those same streets. The author herself was raised in such a household in Jackson, Mississippi... Here's an excerpt from a conversation with Kathryn Stockett about growing up and about writing her book...
"Growing up in Mississippi, almost every family I knew had a black woman working in their house—cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the white children. That was life in Mississippi. I was young and assumed that’s how most of America lived. When I moved to New York, though, I realized my “normal” wasn’t quite the same as the rest of America’s. I knew a lot of Southerners in the city, and every now and then we’d talk about what we missed from the South. Inevitably, somebody would start talking about the maid they grew up with, some little thing that made us all remember—Alice’s good hamburgers or riding in the back seat to take Willy May home. Everybody had a story to tell. Twenty years later, with a million things to do in New York City, there we were still talking about the women who’d raised us in our mama’s kitchens. It was probably on one of those late nights, homesick, when I realized I wanted to write about those relationships from my childhood."
'The Help is fiction, by far and wide...I was scared, a lot of the time, that I was crossing a terrible line, writing in the voice of a black person. I was afraid I would fail to describe a relationship that was so intensely influential in my life, so loving, so grossly stereotyped in American history. I am afraid I have told too little. Not just that life was so much worse, for many black women working in the homes in Mississippi. But also, that there was so much more love between white families and black domestics, that I didn't have the ink or the time to portray. But what I am sure about is this: I don't presume to think that I know what it really felt like to be a black woman in Mississippi, especially the 1960's. I don't think it is something any white woman, on the other end of a black woman's paycheck, could ever truly understand. But trying to understand is vital to our humanity..."
The Help by Kathryn Stockett is my reading group's January read. The book has gotten tremendous praise from reviewers all over, and it was Bookreporter.com's "Book of The Year"! Published by the Penguin Group in February 2009, you can read an excerpt of The Help at the publishers website. And you can also read about what Kathryn felt about her life and writing The Help "In Her Own Words", found on her website KathrynStockett.com.
If you've read The Help, I would love to hear what you thought of the book! And if you're going to read it, either as a group or yourself, Penguin has put together a reading group guide with some thought provoking questions...
1. Who was your favorite character? Why?
2. What do you think motivated Hilly? On the one hand she is terribly cruel to Aibileen and her own help, as well as to Skeeter once she realizes that she can’t control her. Yet she’s a wonderful mother. Do you think that one can be a good mother but, at the same time, a deeply flawed person?
3. Like Hilly, Skeeter’s mother is a prime example of someone deeply flawed yet somewhat sympathetic. She seems to care for Skeeter— and she also seems to have very real feelings for Constantine. Yet the ultimatum she gives to Constantine is untenable; and most of her interaction with Skeeter is critical. Do you think Skeeter’s mother is a sympathetic or unsympathetic character? Why?
4. How much of a person’s character would you say is shaped by the times in which they live?
5. Did it bother you that Skeeter is willing to overlook so many of Stuart’s faults so that she can get married, and that it’s not until he literally gets up and walks away that the engagement falls apart?
6. Do you believe that Minny was justified in her distrust of white people?
7. Do you think that had Aibileen stayed working for Miss Elizabeth, that Mae Mobley would have grown up to be racist like her mother? Do you think racism is inherent, or taught?
8. From the perspective of a twenty-first century reader, the hairshellac system that Skeeter undergoes seems ludicrous. Yet women still alter their looks in rather peculiar ways as the definition of “beauty” changes with the times. Looking back on your past, what’s the most ridiculous beauty regimen you ever underwent?
9. The author manages to paint Aibileen with a quiet grace and an aura of wisdom about her. How do you think she does this?
10. Do you think there are still vestiges of racism in relationships where people of color work for people who are white?
11. What did you think about Minny’s pie for Miss Hilly? Would you have gone as far as Minny did for revenge?
Happy Reading... Suzanne