Book Review: The Help

Title: The Help
Author: Kathryn Stockett
Date Published: February 10, 2009
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Date read: April 10, 2020 (reread)

The Help is a historical fiction novel taking place in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960s. We follow three perspectives, a wealthy young white woman named Skeeter, and two black maids named Aibileen and Minny. Skeeter is an aspiring writer, and she convinces Aibileen to help her write a novel detailing Aibileen and several other maids’ experiences being a black maid working for a white family in the South. With the prevalent racism going on in the state, Skeeter and Aibileen’s task is dangerous to say the least.

Stockett is a talented writer and she excels at creating subtle tension that had me invested and interested in the story. But where she really shines is with her characters. Skeeter, Aibileen, Minny, the whole cast really, pop off the page and become people you feel you know. Her characterization, however, is not without its flaws. While I do think this novel gives readers a good idea of what it was like living as a white woman in the 60s, I’m not sure how realistic a portrayal of a black woman’s experiences this is. The novel lacked authenticity that I think could have been remedied had Stockett done more research, and talked to people who have been in those types of positions if Skeeter can do it, you can too! as this very much reads like it was written by a white woman trying to imagine being a maid at the time. There are a lot of layers to unpack in terms of the power imbalance, and I don’t think Stockett quite did that justice, especially in regards to feelings maids might have had over having to spend more time raising other people’s children rather than their own. 

My other two complaints with this novel are that I think it’s a bit too on-the-nose at times with its messages, and could have been a bit more subtle. And there was a lot of extra drama thrown in that I didn’t think needed to be there, and that could have been replaced with character development/interactions. I would have loved to see more scenes between Skeeter and Aibileen, Aibileen and Mae Mobley, and Aibileen and Minny, as these are the relationships I found the most memorable. 

Ultimately I’m giving this a 3.5 because it was an extremely enjoyable read with very memorable characters, but that could have been better researched. 

Content warnings: Racism, hate crime, sexism, cancer, death of a loved one, miscarriages (quite graphic)

Have you read The Help? If not, do you plan to? I’d love to hear your thoughts! Happy reading 💗