It’s always difficult trying to write a review on such a popular book; pre-blog I’d post a brief opinion on my Goodreads review and leave it at that. In the spirit of trying to write more, I will try and expand on those thoughts or you can head on over to Goodreads for the short version!
The Help is Kathryn Stockett’s debut novel and was awarded the high accolade of ReadItSwapIt’s Book of the Year 2010. With so many of my online book friends giving praise I was both looking forward to it but also wary of being disappointed. I really struggled through the first few chapters which were narrated by Aibileen who speaks either in the colloquial English of the southern states or just has a very broad accent. I managed to get through Trainspotting mostly because I’m Scottish, but otherwise this style of writing is quite hard for me to get into. The grammar is purposefully quite bad and I had to try hard not to correct it in my head.
As I hadn’t seen a bad review yet, I couldn’t just give up and fortunately there are three different narrators. Skeeter’s English is perfect and Minny falls somewhere in between. I found it strange that Aibileen comes across as the less literate of the three as she is the one who writes down prayers for her neighbours and is praised by Skeeter, the budding journalist, for her writing.
I think a lot of the review quotes on the cover and first few pages are a little over the top. That it is a descendent of To Kill A Mockingbird maybe, but it’s not going to “change lives” in the same way. I would hope the majority of readers have some knowledge of this period of American history and I’m saying that as a Brit who never touched on the subject in school. It is history now after all and whilst we can learn the lesson that it is what’s on the inside that counts, I’m not sure it’s a shocking revelation to anyone.
Whilst I have never been disadvantaged or even at an advantage because of my skin colour, I do know about bullying. Whilst there are the heroines on both sides of the colour divide, there is also a villain on each side. Both Leroy and Hilly are bullies, pure and simple. You could plop Hilly down in any time or location and she’d still be a bully. She is hateful and petty-minded against anyone she considers beneath her, both black and white. Leroy’s abusive character is certainly not unique.
The book is mostly about friendships and kindness in difficult circumstances. It’s moving and, at times, even amusing.
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