The Help by Kathryn Stockett

The Help by Kathryn Stockett (unabridged audiobook read by Jenna Lamia, Bahni Turpin, Octavia Spencer, and Cassandra Campbell; 18 hrs on 15 discs): Aibileen and Minny are housemaids in 1960s Jackson, Mississippi, who work for old friends of Skeeter (whose real name is Eugenia, but pretty much no one calls her that). Skeeter is the only one of her friends who didn’t drop out of college to get married, and is now back home after graduation, trying to figure out what to do with herself. She longs to be a writer, and with a little encouragement from a woman at a large New York publishing firm, she decides to write a book. She’s unsure of a topic until her friend Hilly’s “Home Help Bathroom Initiative,” encouraging all white families to get a separate “colored” bathroom installed in their homes for the help. According to Hilly, African Americans are genetically different from whites and carry special diseases. The idea that the very same person who cooks your food and cleans your bathroom would be so dirty as to require their own little stall out in the garage just baffles my mind. The double standard doesn’t end there, though. The white ladies of the Junior League regularly raise money to help “the poor colored children of Africa” and yet turn their noses up at the idea of helping the poor colored kids of Jackson. In secret, Skeeter and Aibileen write a book about life from the point of view of the help, conducting interviews with numerous maids around the city, all the while knowing about the very real danger if the wrong people find out. Meanwhile, Minny is dealing with a tarnished reputation due to her lying former boss (Hilly), an abusive husband, and the strange secretiveness of her new employer, Celia. This book is touching, maddening, hilarious, sad, and ultimately uplifting. Now I want a sequel. I want to know what happens to Minny, Aibileen, and Skeeter. I want to know how Mae Mobley turns out when she grows up. In short, this was an excellent book and completely unforgettable. Highly recommended.

A note on the audio: Unfortunately I have no idea which actress voiced which sections, so I’ll have to refer to them by their character names: Skeeter, Minny, Aibileen, and The Narrator. They were all so excellent, but I was especially impressed at how well they did at sounding like each other: Aibileen did a passable Skeeter and they all managed to give the same inflection to Celia. Aibileen’s voice for Mae Mobley as she got older was impressive as well. Skeeter wasn’t so good at Aibileen or Minny, but I loved her Mrs. Stein. The Narrator would have been fine on her own, but was so overshadowed by the others that her section stuck out a bit. All in all a great audio production.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

  1. One of the big problems I have with this book is that it’s about a white woman telling (and benefiting) from telling black women’s stories. (both Skeeter and Stockett herself.) By having the maids narrate the movie, and individual voices in the audiobook, I think this helps to correct that injustice.

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