Ok, so I feel like this might be silly to review this book because I looked on Amazon and there are 5,000 reviews for the newest edition. There are probably a million reviews for The Help in thousands of locations.
According to Amazon – “The Help has been on bestseller lists for longer than any other hardcover fiction title since The Da Vinci Code. It was USA Today’s 2009 Book of the Year and has been published in thirty-seven countries around the world.”
So why am I doing a book review of what everyone already knows is a pretty darn good book? Well I have my reasons:
1. I saw this book years ago when I first started writing my book (The Help was originally published in 2009. I started A White Room in June 2008) and I almost read it because it involves maids and so does my book, but I never did because it’s set in the 1960s south, a much different world than my book. Then when I did read it, I saw a lot of things I try to do in my writing so in a way it’s special to me.
2. I have a strict rule that when a book is made into a movie, you always watch the movie first and then read the book to get the fullest experience and appreciate both because reading a book of your favorite movie can be extremely fun. But I read the book before the movie came out. Whenever you watch a movie second, you hate it. But something amazing happened, I loved the movie! I stayed up two hours past my bedtime watching it! Yes, I have a bedtime.
So what makes The Help special? Oooooo. Everyone who writes books wants to know the answer to that question. While at the 2012 San Francisco Writer’s Conference this year, I heard over and over people saying they want their book to have the same success as the The Help. I also heard many agents and editors and other professionals say The Help was a very special case and not a realistic goal for any beginning author to shoot for. Frowny faces all around!
Despite said comments, no writer can help but try to figure out the secret while reading The Help. Have I discovered the secret – no! Success to this level and in this market is something that can only be explained by doing a variety of different things from crafting an amazing novel to positioning the novel appropriately, to being patient, to being controversial, to a whole heck of a lot of luck! I don’t know how Kathryn Stockett did it, but I did read her novel and found several reasons why it’s a great book and let’s face it, that is a must for booming success.
Sorry, I’m having a thing for numbers and lists today, deal with it!
Reasons The Help is a great book:
1. Tension – Kathryn Stockett does a fantastic job of presenting questions to the reader. She reveals just enough information to give us an idea about something without fully revealing the answer until later.
2. Controversy – the shock and appall readers feel when facing the racist issues presented in The Help, specifically revolving around the creation of separate bathrooms for African Americans, is dramatic makes you keep reading.
3. The villain is a vicious and horrific villain – villains like Hilly Holbrook are so realistic and so evil and so somebody you’ve met in jr. high or high school that you have to watch them go down.
4. The stakes – the risks that the characters take in The Help are so extreme and for such a good cause that you have to find out what happens. This is a period of American history where people were murdering African Americans for doing nothing at all and the characters were not only risking their own lives but the lives of the people they loved, like their friends and children. They risked having their houses burnt down, going to jail, beat up, and plain old murdered.
5. The time and place. The story takes place in 1960s Mississippi and Kathryn Stockett includes all kinds of wonderful details and descriptions that let the reader become fully enveloped in this fictional world.
6. This is all in addition to an interesting story, fascinating characters, intriguing social acceptances and past practices, shock and intrigue, secret plots, etc. It’s got a lot going for it.
Now the movie – like I said, if you read the book first, usually you hate the movie but I really enjoyed it. I think the director Tate Taylor who also wrote the screenplay based on the book did a wonderful job of recreating Kathryn Stockett’s novel. Many of the scenes from the book were in the movie and most of the plot points played out the same way as in the book.
Of course there were some plot points and issues that just can’t transition to film and those were the ones that were altered. Also of course there is the problem of time, you can’t fit an entire book into the length of a movie, but Tate Taylor did a wonderful job of including the most important details and giving the viewer a really good view of The Help.
The movie, like the book, made me laugh, cry, and feel so many wonderful emotions.
The only thing that was a disappointment was that the movie didn’t show the transformation of one of the main characters, Skeeter. In the end of the book, Skeeter actually moves away and when she comes back she is styled in a more modern 1960s way – I want to say hippie, but I don’t think she was supposed to be full blown hippie – but bell bottoms and long straight hair. I wanted to see that transition happen to the actress playing Skeeter, but it really wasn’t extremely important to the story and more of a conclusion detail for that character. That was just something I was looking forward to seeing that wasn’t there.
Nevertheless, I highly recommend reading The Help and seeing the movie, and in whatever order you like.
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