I was attracted to the book The Help by Kathryn Stockett because a reviewer compared it to TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. I thought that was a comparison which would be very hard to live up to because TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is one of my favorite books, ever. Having just finished reading this work, however, I believe the comparison is right on target.
Kathryn Stockett's book THE HELP is the most satisfying read I have had in a very long time. It is about the relationships between wealthy white people in Mississippi in the early 60's and their black maids. The novel is much more than another book decrying the racism of that era. It is bathed in the culture of that time and blends a love-hate relationship with Southern culture with a deep empathy not only for the black maids but also for their white employers, with all their strengths, foibles and addictions. Every character is richly drawn, with none crippled by some author's conception of how they are supposed to act to prove her or his philosophy of life.
As a writer of inspirational fiction, I appreciated how the author pictured Christian faith and how it both sometimes supported the broken, racist system, and sometimes elevated people to rise above it. One of my favorite passages from the book is when Aibileen, one of the black maids describes a prayer meeting at her church after the death of Medgar Evers: "We close our eyes and the Deacon leads us in a prayer for the Everses, for Myrlie, for the sons. Some folks is whispering, murmuring to God, and a quiet power fill up the room, like bees buzzing on a comb. I say my prayers to myself. When I'm done, I take a deep breath, wait for the others to finish. When I get home tonight I'll write my prayers too. This is worth the double time."
The ending is both satisfying and realistic. It left me believing that as tough as life can be, hope is real, and that when our faith helps us stand up to the frightening things, better days can come. This was certainly not written as a book to sell Christian religion, as much of what is called "Inspirational Fiction" does indeed try to do. However, it is what I believe inspirational fiction needs to become: a real story about real people with a faith that helps them through.
For those who have seen the movie with Emma Stone and Viola Davis, that movie did a good job of recreating the spirit of the book. But as is most often the case with converting a book to a movie, it did leave out some of the passion and struggle.