Friday, October 9, 2009

Book Reivew -- The Help

The Help The Help by Kathryn Stockett

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book has been raved about by every book blogger on the bloggersphere or bloggernacle. So, if you want a glowing review, there are many to choose from. But you won't find it here.

I will be brief, because it’s taken me so long to read The Help (6 weeks – that’s insane) I don’t think I can spend any more time to write a review, because I want to be done. I am a lone dissenter in the high praise for this book. I hated it, I loved it; I was offended, I was bored; I was angry, I felt guilty; I cried: My emotions and feelings about this book were all over the place. My final reaction was that it was racist. Maybe because I live in the South and I can’t separate myself from my surroundings and my state’s history. But, that’s how I felt. Sorry, I’ve got no other great metaphorical explanation.

But since it’s the “book du jour” in the publishing world and The New York Times, I think you should read it regardless of how I felt about it.

My copy is available!

Postscript: One more thing I would like to add...that I didn't in my rant(because, like I said, I was DONE), but every book review I've read was by a white woman -- every quote on the back dust jacket is by a white woman -- I really would like to know what the African American community thinks of this book?? One of the many things that bothered me about this book -- even though, that wasn't the book's fault.

View all my reviews >>


Jeanette said...

You are right. This is the first time I've seen something negative about this book. I've got it on my list of books to read but have not felt a pressing desire to read it. I probably will one of these days though.

Tricia said...

I totally respect that you said exactly how you felt about it. I gave it 4 stars, and even then I felt guilty! :) I think you made very honest and valid points.

Laura at Library of Clean Reads said...

Posting an honest review means being true to yourself and your reviewing skills. Sometimes bloggers may feel pressured to write a glowing review when all the others have done so but it's a mix of all kinds of reviews that makes a reader want to read a book or not.

Corinne said...

I know I can count on you for an honest review :) I appreciate your discerning taste. I have ONLY heard good things about this one, which tends to make me hesitant - go figure. Thanks for an opposite point of view :)

Gerbera Daisy Diaries said...

One more thing I would like to add...that I didn't in my review (because, like I said, I was DONE), but every review I've read was by a white woman -- every quote on the back dust jacket is by a white woman -- I really would like to know what the African American community thinks of this book?? That's what bothers me the most about this book.

MindySue said...

Obviously, I loved the book, but I really appreciate your comment about how everyone we've heard from on the book is a comment from a white woman. I too would be very interested in what the African American community thinks about this book.

I figure if we all liked the same books, the world would be a boring place. At least you and I will always have The Actor and the Housewife to bemoan!

Lucy said...

You know I feel differently, but I'm that middle class white woman from the north, so I'm not debating with you!

Interesting thoughts. I would also love to know what those in the African American community think, because it didn't seem racist to me at all. Just the opposite, in fact.

Eliza said...

Thanks so much for commenting on The Book Case!

Also, I enjoyed your post because I've been on the fence about reading The Help. We've given it rave reviews in BookPage, so it's nice to see some variety in coverage...

Heather G. said...

I'm actually reading this right now for our local book club. I'm still up in the air on it. I'm only about 70 pages in, but it's also taking me a while to read. I'm trying to wonder what the author is trying to portray here. Just a white woman's view on racism in the south at that time? I also wonder what an African American woman who was living in the south and lived part of this book thinks of it as well. This gives me a lot to think about while I finish it up...thanks again for your honest review.

A Bookshelf Monstrosity said...

I'm excited to see the article from the Times that this review prompted! I found your blog through Book Club Girl, by the way :)

Dreamybee said...

I'm here after reading the NYT article, and now I have a few questions that I hope you won't mind answering, even though I know you just wanted to be DONE with The Help. I guess being quoted in the NYT comes with a price! ;)

Why did you find it racist? Would you have found it racist if the same book had been written by a black author? Did you think that the portrayal of Minnie and Aibileen was disrespectful? I'm another non-Southern white woman who loved the book, and I thought that Aibileen and Minnie came across as the heros of this book along with the others in their community who were brave enough to stand up with them and help Skeeter with her book.

In my review of the book, I mentioned that both Minnie and Aibileen reminded me of my dad and my grandmother, neither of whom are/were African-American maids. I say that because I found their characters relatable as people, not just as stereotypes of pre-civil-rights black maids.

Heather said...

I got this link from the Times too and am curious as to why you felt it was racist. I had a little bit of trouble with a white author writing in her perceived "southern black dialect" of the early 1960s. But beyond that i felt the book was very good. Very curious to hear your take.

Gerbera Daisy Diaries said...

Racist: Probably not the best word to use in my “rant.” Who knew the NYTimes would be lurking on my website – consider it my Joe Biden-moment. I should have better explained myself at the time.

My 1st issue is with the credibility of a white person – author or otherwise – being the authority on black experiences. Is her portrayal accurate?? I don’t know. Did she do the best she could? I hope so, considering she was raised in the South and nurtured by a black nanny as she states in her epilogue. But I still think it takes a lot of hubris for a white person to think they are the experts on black issues. I had the same problem with The Secret Life of Bees. Hence, my comment that I would like to read the African-American version of The Help – to read “the other side of the story.” But I live in the South and my children’s school district operated under a desegregation order that was mandated in the 50’s until it was rescinded 5-6 yrs ago. So, maybe I’m hypersensitive to racial issues.

My other big issue is the lack of African American voice about this book. I follow several book blogs – admittedly, all white women – who raved about this book. Also, all the blurbs on the back of the dust jacket are by white authors -- so, it made me wonder – has the African American community made any comments on this book? Are they embracing it? Loving it? Buying it? Which, I think was the point of Ms. Rich’s article in the NY Times. When Oprah makes it her book choice – I will shut up!!

So, I hope this helps better explain my opinion and position.

Heather said...

I thought the Times' reference to "neo-mammyism" was quite interesting as I hadn't heard that term before. NPR's take was interesting too and at least that was from a black perspective. Thanks for sharing your take. Very interesting. I also seemed to have missed the part that the author herself was raised by a black nanny.

Anonymous said...

I finished it last week. Usually I borrow a book from the library then determine if it is something that I am going to recommend or want to reread before I buy it. In this case, I got caught up at the Southern Festival of books. However I am not sure that this one is going to make the "pass it on" cut.

I was irritated by Chapter 2 and wondered if I should I bother to continue? I knew that it was on several best seller list however I got the feeling that this may have been another instance of marketing gone bad. I didn't feel like I was the intended audience and I wasn't sure that I had the patience.

I stuck with it--including the authors notes about how she was scared that she was crossing a line writing in the voice of a black woman; and how she doesn't presume to think that she knows what it really felt like to be a black woman in MS in the 1960's.


I am REALLY glad I quit my mostly white women jr league type book club before I read this book. I should not be integrating groups in the 21st century.

I feel like I should read some Zora now.

Suey said...

Okay, I'm here, very late, to see what thoughts you had. I can see where you are coming from, yet, once again, having absolutely NO experience with this (lived in Utah all my life, hello) I wouldn't have ever thought about it not being an accurate portrayal. In researching my review today, I stumbled upon a YouTube video of Katie Couric talking to a few ladies, a couple of them black, about their thoughts. I didn't have time to watch the whole thing, but now I'm wondering... did they like it?

Here's the link:

But I'm wondering if that segment is an after thought to this longer one:

But I forget! You are DONE with this book! :)

dolfie said...

Ok, I'm a white woman from Europe -therefore very far removed from the experience the book portrays, but 50 pages into this book I couldn't shake the feeling that there were something racist, something condescending about it. That's how I stumbled upon this article - trying to see what others were thinking. I have no problem with a white woman writing in a black voice, if I had a problem with that, than I'd have a problem with every male writer writing in a female voice - but my problem is when that voice is simplified and ultimately uninteligent. I'm sure the author had the best of intentions, that she feels nothing but love and compassion for "the help", but that's exactelly where my problem with the book is: she treats them like puppies. Like some cute and fuzzy misstreated teddy-bears that need a kind-hearted white lady to come to the (methaphorical) rescue.
Of course, the good in this book are just golden, the villains too villified, everything is oversimplified.
What I'm trying to say is that this book is pure sugar. Like this huge bowl of ice-cream you can't help devouring, and yet your tummy aches afterwards. And in achieving this suggary effect I think that it does use the same racial stereotypes Gone With the Wind does, but in a much more hypocritical way.

Demiko Cherry M.A. said...

It is so nice to know I am not the only person that was not into this book. It was boring for me. I think if I hadn't had an African-American grandma, from Mississippi who was a maid and heard the hard truth and not the watered down version this book presented to the world I would be less of a detractor. I also felt that her portrayal of how African-Americans spoke was not authentic. It just didn't ring true for me. Its to bad because I had hope for this books the way everyone talked it up. I was so let down. I guess that will teach me not to believe the hype in the future.

Anonymous said...

I haven't read the book and probably never will.

However, I did see the movie with my wife this afternoon. It is one of the best I've ever seen in my 70 years on this earth. It brings to mind a lesson that should never be forgotten, that despite the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, evil can still exist if good people do nothing, or the wrong thing.

The movie is not racist, in my opinion, or I doubt that the Black actresses would have consented to doing the roles. Olivia Davis will most certainly and deservedly win the Academy Award for Best Actress, or the Oscars are fixed.

Natalie A said...

I recently read The Help and was surprised by the controversy and reference of racism (yes, I'm late in reading as it was down my list).

I have always enjoyed reading about history and non-fiction so my past readings have included pieces on the civil rights movement, African-American migration, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, ect. Also, I seek out books by a variety of authors (aspiring, varied ethnic backgrounds, established, and Pulitzer-Prize authors).

I enjoyed The Help and the characters. It's a fiction piece that's an easy or quick read. There are problems with the book, however I wouldn't call it racist. I found the characters to be strong, beautiful, and educated. The dialect only set the tone for the time period--it didn't say uneducated or ignorant to me.

The book has been successful in sparking interest with people who normally don't read--they are reading. People are discussing issues and seeking out works by authors they would have never dreamed of reading. To me that is a big success to support all artists.

I hope it NEVER comes to a white author not being allowed to write as a African-American or vice versa; or a male writer about a female character. I think taking those risks helps a writer or person to grow and open themselves to experiences. I don't need anyone to tell me to read a book or if I should like it--I form my own opinions. I hope other readers do the same, seek out some of the wonderful authors who have written on the history. Don't wait for someone to tell you to read a book.

Lastly, I hope some of the beautiful African-American writers are impassioned to write a story. I have a list of those writers and am waiting to hear their stories--I will be first in line to purchase.

Rowena Macdonald said...

I'd like to reiterate Natalie A's point of view. Why shouldn't a white author write about a black character? Or a man write about a woman? Or vice versa? That smacks of censorship. As a writer myself, one of the main purposes of writing fiction for me is to use my imagination and write convincingly about characters that are different from me. It's an interesting challenge. It would be boring to only write what I have directly experienced. I imagine Kathryn Stockett felt the same. You shouldn't have to have experienced something to be 'allowed' to write about it. I am currently reading The Help and really enjoying it. A friend lent it to me and said though she found it an enjoyable read, she felt uneasy about a white woman portraying black experiences. To me, this is a rather lazy, knee-jerk liberal reaction and I think Daisy Mom's review is guilty of this too. She doesn't explain why she thinks the book is racist. It appears she just assumes it must be because Kathryn Stockett is white and writing about black characters. From what I've read about Kathryn Stockett, she thought hard about what she was doing and, having been brought up in the South, she would know the dialect of characters such as Minny and Aibileen very well. The white characters such as Hilly and Celia also speak in a Southern idiom, so it is not as if she reserves this solely for the black characters. Using this idiom creates the characters and transports readers to a very specific place and time. It is not racist to use non-standard English to denote character.

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