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The Help - a Book Review
I don't know which emotion to pick
I just finished reading The Help, by Kathryn Stockett.
I don't know how to describe what I'm feeling, except to say I have a strong compulsion to write something.
First, I'm tremendously encouraged that this is this woman's first book. If it is possible for her to write something like this on her first try, then anything is possible for me. But, as a life-long writer of much that will never see the light of day, I know, this may well not be the first book she's written. It may well be the first that got published. There's years of difference made up of late nights and frustration and doubt in those two possiblilities.
I grew up in the South in the sixties. But I don't share the experiences of the characters in this book. White, Christian, middle class - all the same. But in my part of metro Atlanta there weren't any black people. I remember going from saying "Negro" to "Black." My parents never said the N-word so I didn't either. Didn't think much of people who did. We didn't have any "help" but I knew a family or two who did. There was no public transportation in our county, but it never occured to me to wonder how these maids got to and from work.
I remember the first black boy who came to our high school. And I only call him a boy because we were all boys and girls then. I think I was a sophmore and he was a junior. Everybody liked him because he had a great personality and was funny - a much admired trait in anybody in high school. It was common knowledge that some organization moved his family into our district so our school could say it was integrated. He wasn't the first of many. I think he was the first and only for many years to come. Once he graduated, that was the end of it as far as I knew.
I went to the University of Georgia after high school and had my first personal experiences with Blacks. The girl across the hall was black. Her roommte was moving out as I was moving in. I heard her telling a friend, whenever she got a white roommate, she just waited for her to move out, then she'd have one of her own friends move in. Apparently her white roommate had really tried to live with her (although classes hadn't even started yet.) She'd gone to the library and researched to find out why her black roommate smelled the way she did. Had something to do with body chemistry in Negroes.
My roommate smelled like marijuana. I didn't have to go to the library to find out why.
My first real exposure to prejudice was after I married into the Army and we lived in Liberty County, Georgia. Liberty County had been the poorest of all the poor counties in Georgia up until the time the Army started rebuilding Fort Stewart after Vietnam ended. My new husband and I lived in a trailer park, mainly because the Army was way behind the power curve in providing housing needed because of their build up. Seventy-five percent of the population of the county lived in trailers in 1976. I picked up our mail at the post office in town. One day I was waiting behind a very nicely dressed, elderly black lady, and I couldn't believe how the middle aged post mistress talked to her. I can't even remember what she said. It was just rude. I don't care if you are purple with green stripes. It was just rude. And that black lady was old enough to be that post mistress's grandmother. Hadn't she been taught to respect her elders? That's a whole other issue beyond what color anybody is. The black lady didn't seem to notice. She just took her mail or package or whatever it was and went on her way. That was 35 years ago. I remember it like it was yesterday.
If you're not from the South, you're going to read this book like it's fiction. I'm from the South and I can't swear on a stack of Bibles that it all really happened. But I expect it did. I've taught my own children that times have changed, and they certainly have. You'd know that if you'd grown up in the sixties. I just can't swear on a stack of Bibles that they've changed enough.