Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Kathryn Stockett's The Help on Audiobook Has Southern Drawls That Will Draw You In

I have possibly never been so excited to see a film adaptation of a book I loved. When the movie version of Kathryn Stockett's The Help debuts in theaters this summer, I will definitely be there. Why, you might ask? It's simple, really: I believe this book was made to be performed. I started hearing buzz about Stockett's first novel way back in 2009, when it was published. Rebecca from The Book Lady's Blog reviewed it in February 2009, just around its release date. S. Krishna's Books followed in January 2010. Write Meg! also posted her review in March 2010. Basically, The Help has been hitting the book blog circuit from its release date until now, with very little down time.

More than a year ago, the novel suddenly appeared on my local library shelves. It had (I'm sure) been passed from hand to hand, never seeing the New Book section, but instead living on the Hold Shelf until then. I snapped it up, tried to start it, and promptly gave it up. Looking back, I have no idea why; possibly I was busy, maybe it was when I was in a mystery-only mood. Whatever the reason, I returned it never having read more than a page or two.

Fast forward to 2011. The book is now being made into a motion picture, and for some reason this tends to  push me toward reading a book I've been reluctant about. It's as if I think someone will force me into watching the movie before I read the book (*gasp*). Therefore, I need to read it as soon as I can. Well, that decision coincided perfectly with my mom telling me that she had several credits to use. If we used them before a certain date, we got $10 towards another book. Of course, we couldn't pass that up, so I decided to bite the bullet and get The Help on audio.

This one was of the single best reading decisions I've made all year -- possibly ever. The book that I just didn't get into when I read its first few pages became a book I was absolutely obsessed with reading (er... listening to). Seriously. It was more than 18 hours long, but after finishing it this weekend, I wish it had been stretched to 25 or 30. It was that good.

In case you have never heard of The Help, let me give you a (short) synopsis: The year is 1962. Segregation is still alive and well, especially in the south. In Jackson, Mississippi, the division between white people and black people is not just tradition; it's the law. Jim Crow laws effectively divide the races and prevent desegregation. But, as the song says, "the times, they are a-changing" and changes begin happening in Jackson in the early 1960s. Kathryn Stockett plants her story right smack in the middle of all of these changes, providing a historically accurate backdrop for her characters' development. Stockett uses three points of view throughout the novel, each character telling his or her portion of the story.
  • Aibileen: A sixty-something African-American housekeeper for the Leefolt family, Aibileen has seen her fair share of heartache. As she cares for the Leefolt's daughter Mae Mobley, she discovers important lessons about love and the lessons we pass on to other humans.
  • Skeeter: A white, privileged Junior Auxiliary member, Skeeter begins to think there might be more to  life than marrying well and planning galas. She embarks upon an adventure to further her ambitions as a writer, and ends up seeing life in a whole new light.
  • Minny: Unable to not speak her own mind, Minny is an African-American housekeeper who has bounced around from job to job as a result of her inability to edit herself. She gets fired by the JA president Hilly, then hired by  Hilly's ex-boyfriend's new wife. She is frank about both her new job and her abusive husband when she tells the story.
The voice actors, as always in a audiobook, make the book. Four excellent actors perform The Help: Jenna Lamia (who also read The Secret Life of Bees and Saving CeeCee Honeycutt), Bahni Turpin (who also read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and Precious), Octavia Spencer (an actress who has done both Dinner for Schmucks and TV series Ugly Betty, who will also play Minny in The Help film), and Cassandra Campbell (who has read books by Chelsea Handler and Jodi Picoult) read their parts with skill, and in essence become the novel. Their voices are rich southern drawls without becoming overly put-upon. Audiobook perfection! The Audible version also includes an essay read by Stockett herself, about her own personal story that led to her writing the novel.

An interview with Stockett by Katie Couric:

Kathryn Stockett has written the epitome of good southern literature with her debut novel The Help. I am sorry it took me so long to read (listen to) it, but I suppose late is better than never. Now, don't do what I did; if this is the first you are hearing about this book, do yourself a favor and go get a copy! Print, audio (which is obviously what I would recommend), whatever. You will not be sorry. And then you can go watch the movie in August guilt-free!

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