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Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Help - Kathryn Stockett

My friend Stephanie is known for her great ideas, many of them showcased on her amazing blog, Literally Organized. Back in 2007, in one of her best ideas, she invited me to join her newly created book club. This was the beginning of a beautiful relationship between me, books and some great new girlfriends. One of the benefits of being in a book club (other than the hilarity, friendships, great food, etc.) is the great suggestions for future reads that you receive from other people. This is one of the many things I've been missing since our move. Until....

The first month's read from my new BAIN book club was The Help, and I absolutely loved it. The Help is Kathryn Stockett's first novel, and as mentioned in the afterward, is loosely based on her experience with live-in help while growing up in 1950s Mississippi. The story revolves around a group of 20-something white women who have full-time cleaning and childcare help from seasoned, African-American women. Stockett explores the complicated relationships that develop between the underpaid and under-appreciated maids, the innocent children they look after and the women, who cling desperately an empowering society, that employ them. In an unusual coordination of efforts, the "imaginary" white vs. black lines are crossed when a young, white, aspiring journalist pairs with one of her best friend's maids to write a tell-all book detailing employers secrets and the treatment of the help in their deep-Mississippi town. The story comes to a head when the women of the town begin reading each other's stories and begin to identify the actual names behind the anonymity. I really liked the way that this book looked at the civil rights movement from the eyes of everyday people. The common story, the story I expected, focuses on the fearless protagonist that powers through the discrimination to create a better world. I was pleasantly surprised, the characters were frightened and unsure and many times unclear of their motives - good and bad alike. This novel felt authentic, heartfelt and honest - I was emotionally pulled in all different directions, each character earned their own separate reaction. I thought the Stockett did a great job of staying neutral and presenting the story without any obvious exaggeration. I am interested to see what my new book club compadres have to say about this one, it will be a good barometer to the group. I, for one, am happy to report that the first test of a new book club has been passed - I like the recommendations - score!

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