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From the first “Miss Aibi” to Skeeter’s final snarky remark, The Help is a tour de force of laughter, history, humility, but most of all, strength. After more than 60 rejections, Kathryn Stockett’s debut novel was finally published in 2009 by Penguin Books. It was an instant sensation, spread not only by dazzling reviews from the New York Times and USA Today, but also like wildfire by word of mouth.
Set in the 1960’s in Jackson, Mississippi, the book aims to portray the social and political turmoil through the eyes of African American maids, and the prominent white families that they work for. The Help is told through the narratives of Aibileen and Minny, maids who care for the children of white families, and Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan, a young woman who returns from college to find that her own beloved maid has left the family after decades. Ashamed at the way the prestigious white families treat their endearing maids after years of service, Skeeter, an aspiring writer, begins the process of bringing these injustices to light – through a book.
Any attempts to stand up to the unrest were illegal, forcing Skeeter to secretly meet with the maids and transfer their stories into an anonymous tell-all book. Affectionately called, The Help, the book becomes a Mississippi sensation, and is viewed as a spark that ignites social change for Jackson at the heart of the Civil Rights movement. Along the way, Skeeter, Aibileen, and Minny find friendship and learn that it takes courage to stand up for what you believe, but in the end it’s worth it.
Last year, I was fortunate enough to discover the full-cast audiobook with amazing narrators like Octavia Spencer (who would later be cast in the movie) that truly brought the characters to life; I was even more ecstatic to find that it was being adapted into a movie. Albeit, I am always cautiously optimistic with film adaptations, and as said in book and library worlds, “Don’t judge a book by its movie.” However I must say that I was pleasantly surprised by Chris Columbus’s interpretation of the wonderful book.
This all-star cast – Viola Davis (Aibileen), Octavia Spencer (Minny), Emma Stone (Skeeter), and Bryce Dallas Howard (Hilly Holbrook) managed to transport the viewer back to a place in time where civil unrest was rampant and the racial divide was at its breaking point. Bordering along the lines of comedy, drama, and historical epic, the movie managed to cover almost every characterization and major scene, coming together to form a movie that is destined for award nominations.
As I left the theater hearing “It was just like the book,” and “I have to go out and read the book now,” I knew that Stockett and Columbus had managed to overcome the print to screen curse. Fans of the book will be pleasantly surprised at the film’s accuracy and ability to evoke the same emotion as the words on the page, and bring to life some of the best southern female characters ever written.
Lindsey Levinsohn is a collection development specialist for OverDrive.