The Help by Kathryn Stockett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
It has been a little over a week since I picked up this book and entered the world of 1960s Jackson, Mississippi. Recommended by my best friend and intrigued that the author herself is from Mississippi, I had high expectations for the book and it did not disappoint.
What this book really illuminated for me is the fact of how deeply rooted race relation issues are and how segregation was a REAL fact of life not that long ago. If you really think about, the 1960s was only 40 years ago - that is not a long time. Especially when you are trying to overcome such deeply-rooted cultural issues that are taught from generation to generation. For some reason, though I have been taught extensively about the Civil Rights era and "know" how terrible segregation was, I never knew how actually terrible it was, and for some reason this book was able to get me to see that truth.
The voices of the main characters (there are three) that Stockett created are so genuine and real and they leap up from the page and engulf you in their world, their thoughts, their emotions, and each of their unique struggles. Two of the characters are black maids for different white families and the other is a young college-educated white woman from Jackson who starts a "journey" and the two maids end up joining along with her. It is a journey through society, familial expectations, friendships, love, and race relations in 1960s Mississippi.
I love how the author treats Mississippi compassionately and yet candidly relates the reality of that time. Her writing reflects the deep love I have for the South, and particularly Mississippi since I have familial roots and ties there. But I am also not naive to the fact that there are still deep-seeded race issues that exist there.
I highly recommend this book - I do think it is a must read - but I also hope that the reader who picks up this book will have the same mix of compassion and outrage that the author conveys for her state and people and not just contempt for "ignorant" Mississippi people, because then I believe you will miss the entire point and beauty of the story - that the same prejudices and chains that bind these characters can only be broken when we realize we are all just the same - and that is a much more difficult journey than we realize.
**UPDATE** The more I let the memory of this book germinate, the more I determine how much I loved it, so I have to give it 5 stars. Especially in light of the last book I read, this book is above and beyond...
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