It started with a glimpse of it on a store shelf. Interesting title. Even more interesting description. Somehow, it ended up back on the shelf and didn’t make the trip home with me. And then I saw that the film was coming out, and I just had to read it. My least favorite thing in the world, almost, is to read a book after a seeing a movie. And so I looked and looked at the library. Always checked out. And I broke down and bought the remaining coppy they had at a local bookstore, a hardback, though I never buy those. Why should I when I can devour a ook in less than a day. But there was something about this book. I really wanted to read it. And then I left it somewhere still undetermined and had to buy another copy. I was hoping the book would be worth all of this trouble.
If you haven’t read the book, or seen the movie? Well, then, do so.
It starts with Aibileen.
“Taking care of white babies, that’s what I do, along with all the cooking and the cleaning. I done raised seventeen kids in my lifetime. I know how to get them babies to sleep, stop crying, and go in the toilet bowl before they mamaseven get out a bed in the morning.”
I thought it was going to be a story about the hardships of the African American race in Mississippi in the throes of the Civil Rights Movement. To an extent, it was.
And it wasn’t.
Instead of filling the pages with what I thought I was going to read, Stockett filled them with something to which I could relate: maternal feelings, companionship. Both of these were well-woven into the story tossed between the main characters, Skeeter, Aibileen, and Minny. Of course these things were mingled with the discrimination and crimes against humanity that occur when one teaches a child that someone of a different color is not entitled to use the same restroom as your race. Those were the parts that angered me, and made me appreciate that I was raised north of that imaginary line that was drawn across the United States long before anyone of us was here. I never saw this firsthand. Thanks for that.
Instead, I was drawn to Aibileen and Mae Mobley, the awkward toddler of the distant mother who employed Aibileen as her domestic help. The tenderness she showed that child, the way she loved her, looked after her, and parented her more than her own mother ever would. I am touched by the relationship there, when the innocence of childhood erases color and the two can connect. Realizing that she must undo the damage caused by Mae Mobley’s distant mother, Aibileen develops this special thing between her and the baby.
“She say, ‘Mae Mo bad’.
The way she say it, like it’s a fact, make my insides hurt.
‘Mae Mobley,’ I say, cause I got a notion to try something. ‘You a smart girl?’
She look at me, like she don’t know.
‘You a smart girl.’, I say again.
She say, ‘Mae Mo smart.’
I say, ‘You a kind little girl?’
She just look at me. She two years old. She don’t know what she is yet.
I say,’You a kind girl’, and she nod, repeat it back to me. But before I can do another one, she get up and chase that poor dog around the yard and laugh and that’s when I get to wondering, what would happen if I told her she something good, everyday?”
Better yet, what would happen if she didn’t? These women in this book mothered these babies. That is, until their stories were told in a tell-all book written in the hand of another of the main characters, Skeeter Phelan. And then the racial issues surfaced, and ties were broken.
I cannot go any further. I can say that there were parts that made me laugh, and parts that had me quietly crying. Crying? Well, the last chapter, for one. And the laughter? A lot of that had to do with Minny’s pie, and you’ll have to figure that one out on your own. I read the book in two days, which is saying something considering my schedule.
I have not seen the movie. I read somewhere that it is at the top of the box office charts. That’s great. I will not be watching it. I’m sure it’s wonderful, but there is no way it can do the book justice.
If you haven’t read it yet, read The Help.
COMING SOON: Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s by John Elder Robison