You know what I think it is about ‘references’ and ‘recommendations’? They have just one shot at getting their foot in the door and then, from thereon they have to walk the whole journey based on how much substance they’ve got!

When I picked Kathryn Stockett‘s bestseller, The Help, it was nothing more then a reference to me from the 84th Academy Awards when they nominated it for Best Picture and presented it with the Best Supporting Actress award. Although I had given up on picking a book that I couldn’t put down, they hadn’t given up on me. The Help is a story about dreams, more than anything. Set in the town Jackson, Mississippi of 1962 it tells the stories (as opposed to story) of the women who live there each day hoping that their lives will change but never grumble about it. The narration of The Help is started by Aibeleen, a colored maid who is now taking care of her 17th child, and it begins thus…

Mae Mobley was born on an early Saturday morning in August, 1960. A church baby we like to call it. Taking care a white babies, that’s what I do, along with all the cooking and cleaning. I done raised seventeen kids in my lifetime. I know how to get them babies to sleep, stop crying, and go to the toilet bowl before they mamas even got out a bed in the morning…

It goes on in the same tone and is therefore much more relate-able and amiable. Aibeleen sets the context and introduces the other narrators, Minny Jackson and Miss Skeeter, to the reader. Minny is Aibeleen’s best friend and the best cook in Jackson while Miss Skeeter is a close friend of Aibeleen’s employer Mrs. Elizabeth Leefolt. In a time when making small talk with the colored maids is deeply discouraged, Miss Skeeter asks Aibeleen if she would like to change things around Jackson and that is when you sit up and take notice of her. As for Minny, her feisty character rolled in with a lot of witty talking is good ’nuff reason to look out for. ;-)The Help is narrated by 3 people, Aibeleen, Minny and Miss Skeeter, as opposed to the singular person narration found in most books. This gives it an all-rounded perspective of the story. Frankly, I liked the approach quite a bit as all three characters have a different way of looking at something and yet at a very granular level they are all on the same page.

As for the story, here it is–Miss Skeeter comes home from college to find that her beloved help and close friend Constantine has moved away. No one wishes to tell her why. The more she probes, the more resistance she faces. The norm is for 23-year old girls in Jackson to be married, but Miss Skeeter isn’t and that makes her friends and her mother look at her in a pitiful manner. Skeeter wishes to be a writer, and in spite of all the pressure that she faces from her mother to get married, she finds herself a way to pursue her dream. When the editor of a notable publishing house asks her to “write” what she wants to, Skeeter picks a topic very close to her heart—that of the help in white houses. She finds a confidant in Aibeleen as reminds her of Constantine. When Skeeter asks Aibeleen if she would be willing to share her of experiences working for a white family, a horrified Aibeleen flatly refuses. Given the situation of colored people in a white society, Aibeleen tells Skeeter that she doesn’t wish to put her neck on the line for the sake of a book. Moreover, Skeeter wouldn’t like what Aibeleen would have to say. Skeeter pursues the matter. What I noticed here was that although it looks like Skeeter was doing this for her dream, her book, it also shines through that Skeeter was doing this for Constantine and all the good things Constantine taught her while she was being raised. Skeeter comes across as only human for wanting to write this book for more then just one purpose.

As reluctant as Aibeleen is in sharing her stories, she finds herself drawn to thinking about what would happen if such a book was published. What also works in favour of going ahead with the book is the instigation that Hilly Holbrook, one of Skeeter’s friends, provides while condemning the colored maids from using the same bathroom as the white family. Hilly goes as far as coaxing Elizabeth to install a different bathroom for Aibeleen in the Leefolt residence, which Elizabeth does. When Hilly gets Minny fired, Aibeleen finds in her the courage to help Skeeter. And that is how they begin writing the book.

Slowly, Aibeleen gets Minny to share her stories too and then across the span of the book a lot of other maids join in. But this is not before Skeeter meets a lot of resistance; from the whites and some colored maids, and suffers more than a few losses; that of almost losing her mother to cancer, losing her friends ‘cos they despise the colored people, and losing a man who claimed that he loved her. She also finds out about Constantine, and my does that break her heart! What she gains in return, whether she finishes the book, whether catastrophe strikes them, you’ll have to read the book to find out.

I can’t write a review without mentioning Minny Jackson. She is the character that stands out like a sunflower in a room; bright and blazing. Her spirit, honesty, and wit are attention-grabbing. You can’t help but like her for her brazen yet loving nature. You laugh at the situations she gets herself into and admire her for the courage she shows in pulling through them. Minny Jackson is a winner in the book, all the way. It comes as no surprise that Octavia Spencer, who played Minny Jackson in the movie, won close to 19 awards for her role in the Help (as mentioned by Wikipedia). I love how Minny is such a bubbly person and yet so strong and determined. It’s endearing to see Minny and Aibeleen talk…

I [Aibeleen] reach over and squeeze her hand “You are a beautiful person, Minny.” She rolled her eyes and stick her tongue out like I handed her a plate a dog biscuits. “I knew you was getting senile.” she say. We both chuckle…

And how Minny reflects on her friendship with Aibeleen and says…

That’s what I love about Aibeleen, she can take the most complicated things in life and wrap them up so small and simple, they’ll fit right in your pocket.”

All in all, the story of The Help is like a leaf floating on the spine of a river traversing many lands. The reading is as engaging as watching the leaf passing through time in front of your eyes—sometimes tumbling, sometimes jumping, sometimes saving itself from drowning, yet enjoying the moment. That is how this book is. It has all kinds of moments: joyous, gleeful, celebratory, exhausted, trying, bitter, revolutionary, victorious, and free. You feel all warm and fuzzy inside while you’re reading it and after it is over, you can hear the song of a lark singing in the summer sky–a song of freedom yet with a binding that keeps it rooted to the ground.

Kathryn Stockett has done some really remarkable story-telling. And it is so true when she says…

There is so much you don’t know about a person.

Read The Help in this season of grey clouds and the noise of the raindrops, I’m sure you’ll have sunshine in your eyes and some new friends by your bedside table.

YouTube Trailer of The Help

Imdb Video Clipping of The Help

-Sameen

P.S: I can’t wait to see the movie.

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