The Help by Kathryn Stockett

A Popular Book Selection for Mother/Daughter Book Clubs

Looking for a book to read with your daughter? This wildly popular first novel by Kathryn Stockett has everyone talking: Have you read the book? Have you seen the movie? The Help is an ultimate chick lit book wrapped up in tender emotion and sweet humor that makes it an excellent selection for a mother/daughter or teen girl book club.

The Story

Jackson, Mississippi 1962 is the setting for this wonderful book about three women who risk jobs, relationships, and even their lives to tell an important story. Eugenia, nicknamed Skeeter, is viewed as a bit odd by her best friends. Although she grew up in a wealthy home, she doesn't care about fashion and has ambitions to be a journalist. While her friends marry and move around the white social network joining bridge clubs and attending Junior League meetings, Skeeter is conversing with black maids and carrying a Jim Crow booklet in her satchel.

Abilene and Minny are two black maids whose lives are spent working for white families. Both are entirely dependent on these families for their livelihood. Abilene loves the children of the family she works for and tells the children "secret stories" about black and white children being friends. Minny has a reputation for a quick temper, and when she is unfairly fired from her current maid position, she makes a bitter enemy of Miss Hilly Holbrook who is determined that Minny never find work again in Jackson. 

Through a series of events comes the idea of  writing  a book about what it's like to be a black maid working for a white family. These three different women step over the lines of segregation and begin a journey of change that includes clandestine meetings, subtle lies, and sleepless nights. The culmination of this secret project at the dawning of the Civil Rights movement results in a bond between these three women who learn to look past color, and ultimately recognize within themselves the power to make a change.

An Ideal Book for a Mother/Daughter Book Club

The Help is a book about women who cross barriers to make a change and in the process create strong bonds of friendship and mutual respect. This is an ideal theme for a mother/daughter book club.  In addition, the story lends itself to many discussion topics such as segregation, racism, civil rights, equal rights, and courage. For discussion ideas, see The Help reading guide for book club groups.  You might also find the publisher's teacher's guide to The Help useful. After reading the book and discussing it, mothers and daughters might enjoy a girls' night out to see the movie adaption of the book. Check out this  movie review for parents to learn more about The Help movie.

Author Kathryn Stockett

Kathryn Stockett is a native of Jackson, Mississippi and grew up having a black maid. Her first hand experience of having this companionship gave Stockett the idea to write this story. In a special section at the end of The Help entitled "Too Little, Too Late",  Stockett writes about Demetire, the elderly maid who took care of the family until she died. Writes Stockett, "I'm pretty sure I can say that no one in my family ever asked Demetrie what it felt like to be black in Mississippi, working for our white family. It never occurred to us to ask." (Putnam, 451). Stockett wrote the book trying to imagine what Demetire's answer to that question might be.

Stockett attended the University of Alabama majoring in English and Creative Writing. She worked for a New York magazine publishing company for many years. Currently, she lives in Atlanta with her family. The Help is Stockett's first novel.

My Recommendation

My first encounter with this book was at a family reunion. Several relations were passionately discussing the story and told me that if I liked The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, then I would surely enjoy this book. They were right! The Help is a beautiful story about friendship between women who were willing to cross lines and take risks in a time when it was dangerous to make waves or call for change that could result in violence.

These women demonstrated a courage that is inspiring and that is what I think makes this book worth sharing with teen girls. Whether it be through a simple recommendation or through hosting a mother/daughter book club where two generations can discuss a period of time where violating certain society rules could damage your reputation or make you a target for ridicule and violence, this is a book that inspires sisterhood.

Although this book is written for the adult market, I highly recommend it to teen girls and their moms for its historical value, sweet humor, and inspiring messages of courage. (Berkley, Penguin, 2011. Paperback ISBN: 9780425232200) The Help is also available in e-book editions.