My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I read "The Help" after having it highly recommended by several people I know, and after noting that the reviews for it are generally good. After having read the book, I think my expectations were too high for it. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the book and am glad to have read it, but I don't think it's all that.
Quick plot synopsis: It's the early 1960s in Jackson, Mississippi. Racial tension exists. High(ish) society white women treat their black domestic help with various degrees of respect. One young white lady decides to write a book about the relationship between the white women and the help. This is not initially received as a good idea. She has a hard time getting the help agreeing to tell real stories about their experiences, because they are afraid they will be fired, hurt, and/or killed. Eventually, she gains trust and cooperation. The book is written.
What I thought: When I finished reading it, I wished that I had read the book they were writing in the book instead of the story of writing that book. While the characters are putting the book together, the reader gets some insight into some of those stories, and they sounded much more interesting than the story of writing the book.
Is the story believable? Probably. I don't know, I was born in 1972 and had more exposure to race issues from closer to an "inner city" perspective than to a "rural" perspective. Was it a compelling story? Yes. Were the characters believable and interesting? Mostly.
What the book did right: The racial tension was appropriate and obvious throughout the entire book. The pacing was nice -- I was never bored reading it, and I never thought it left me behind. Telling the story from multiple 1st person points of view was awesome. I love how the author told the story in chronological order, but switched point of view every few scenes. The voices were distinctly different and believable. It was nice to be able to get in the head of several of the characters as the story progressed.
Where the book could have been improved: My biggest complaint is that the book wants to think it's a commentary on race relations, but it confuses the issue by throwing in some class tension in the mix. The main tension is between the white high(ish) society women and their domestic help. But they also have tension with a "white trash" lady. The whole situation seems pretty realistic, but the underlying tension gets terribly confusing because it's not explored well enough. The "white trash" storyline adds a lot to the story, especially showing that it's not as simple as black and white (haha). But it falls flat in my eyes. Also, like I already mentioned, I would have enjoyed more stories about the actual relations between the employer and employees.
Overall recommendation: It's good, but it's not all that.
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