All I need to be entertained are cats within ear-scratching distance and a good book . . .OK, maybe that's not ALL I need, but it's a good start.

I love to read. And I love to get recommendations for books to read.

I started Cats and a Book to share the books I read with others. Some I love, some I don't, but you may love the ones I don't, so you're welcome to post your own comments and suggestions.

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Happy reading!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Help, by Kathryn Stockett

The Help is a complex story of black maids and the whites who hired them. Rooted in the deep South during the Civil Rights movement, The Help is written from the perspectives of two of the maids, Aibeleen and Minnie,and Skeeter Phelan, a white woman raised by a maid. The plot centers around the white woman's fledgling journalism career and her attempt to capture the stories of Aibeleen, Minnie, and others. Having been raised by a maid she loved and who was unceremoniously fired by her parents, Skeeter felt empathy for the maids and their working conditions. Although some maids had close relationships, particularly with "their babies" (the white children they raised) many were subject to whims, superstitions, and mistreatment at the hands of their employers. Class within white society is also explored in the book, as Skeeter's project is unveiled and she is ostracized by old friends.

Stockett does an admirable job describing Southern customs and traditions. After preparing a dish of grits, strawberries and marshmallows for the little white girl she is caring for, Aibeleen notes, "That's all a grit is, a vehicle. For whatever it is you rather be eating."

Later in the book, Minnie and Aibeleen talk about the "lines" between classes and between races. They disagree. Minnie says,

"Not only is they lines, but you know good as I do where them lines be drawn."

Aibeleen shakes her head. "I used to believe in em. I don't anymore. They in our heads. People like Miss Hilly is always trying to make us believe they there. But they ain't."

The author, Kathryn Stockett, was herself raised by an African American maid during the late 50s and early 60s. She observed first hand the treatment of maids, the complex relationship between the white children and their black maids, and how unspoken rules governed their interactions with each other. In her epilogue, she writes "I'm pretty sure I can say that no one in my family ever asked Demetrie (their maid) what it felt like to be black in Mississippi, working for our white family. It never occurred to us to ask. It was everyday life. It wasn't something people felt compelled to examine." Stockett goes on to say that her inspiration for the book was "what her answer would be."

The Help was published by Putnam in 2009. This is her first novel.

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