As a book company that funds and promotes literacy and education at home and all over the world, we love many authors and books. Recently, however, I have been particularly inspired by a series of love letters our fans have written to us, Better World Books, on their blogs. In this spirit, I felt led to write a love letter to one of my favorite authors.
Dear Kathryn, I read your book over Thanksgiving weekend in the crisp fall of 2009. I have no idea how it took until November for me to read your novel which debuted that February. It sat on my bookshelf begging to be opened, but I let work and life get in the way. Foolish me. “The Help” offered me a better perspective on work and on life. Growing up a sixth generation Georgian, I have been fascinated by Southern folklore, human and civil rights, social justice, and love of tradition my entire life. My deep roots here drew me to learn more. I have always dreamed of being able to adequately explain the real, and often times, positive interconnectedness between these Southern and social passions. This led me, a musically inept young lady, to learn how to play the banjo.
Through my musical journey across bluegrass, folk and rock & roll, I discovered their roots in blues and jazz. About the same time, I began diving deep into every class the University of Virginia offered on the history of the American South. Music was at the core of Southern culture and movements. It did not take much digging for this short, blonde, y’all-sayer to find where our beautiful music came from. So I finished the American history and politics classes and started cramming in every course I found on Africa.
My college thesis states that the civil rights movement could not have been successful if it were not for the songs and spirit brought over on the slave ships and strengthened across the Atlantic from Africa to the cotton fields to the white only lunch counters.
Your book is a better version of my thesis. It’s what I had been thinking about for years. It answers the questions I was sometimes afraid to ask. It goes beyond the music to the heart of the conflicts and beauties behind race relations in the American South. It is more lovely than Hilly’s home, more delicious than Minny’s chocolate pie and (my sweet mother might cry at me for saying this) more real than “Gone with the Wind.”
Rumor on the street is that you actually live in the same town as me and Better World Books. It would be an honor, much like how Skeeter felt when Elaine Stein called her from New York City, for you to kindly reply and perhaps even share your story with the Better World Books community.
Community Manager, Better World Books
About the book
In pitch-perfect voices, Kathryn Stockett creates three extraordinary women whose determination to start a movement of their own forever changes a town, and the way women, mothers, daughters, caregivers and friends view one another. A deeply moving novel filled with poignancy, humor, and hope, The Help is a timeless and universal story about the lines we abide by, and the ones we don’t.
About the author
Kathryn Stockett was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi. After graduating from the University of Alabama with a degree in English and Creative Writing, she moved to New York City where she worked in magazine publishing and marketing for nine years. She currently lives in Atlanta with her family. The Help is her first novel.
Discussion questions from the publisher
1. Who was your favorite character? Why?
2. What do you think motivated Hilly? On the one hand she is terribly cruel to Aibileen and her own help, as well as to Skeeter once she realizes that she can’t control her. Yet she’s a wonderful mother. Do you think that one can be a good mother but, at the same time, a deeply flawed person?
3. Like Hilly, Skeeter’s mother is a prime example of someone deeply flawed yet somewhat sympathetic. She seems to care for Skeeter— and she also seems to have very real feelings for Constantine. Yet the ultimatum she gives to Constantine is untenable; and most of her interaction with Skeeter is critical. Do you think Skeeter’s mother is a sympathetic or unsympathetic character? Why?
4. How much of a person’s character would you say is shaped by the times in which they live?
5. Did it bother you that Skeeter is willing to overlook so many of Stuart’s faults so that she can get married, and that it’s not until he literally gets up and walks away that the engagement falls apart?
6. Do you believe that Minny was justified in her distrust of white people?
7. Do you think that had Aibileen stayed working for Miss Elizabeth, that Mae Mobley would have grown up to be racist like her mother? Do you think racism is inherent, or taught?
8. From the perspective of a twenty-first century reader, the hairshellac system that Skeeter undergoes seems ludicrous. Yet women still alter their looks in rather peculiar ways as the definition of “beauty” changes with the times. Looking back on your past, what’s the most ridiculous beauty regimen you ever underwent?
9. The author manages to paint Aibileen with a quiet grace and an aura of wisdom about her. How do you think she does this?
10. Do you think there are still vestiges of racism in relationships where people of color work for people who are white?
11. What did you think about Minny’s pie for Miss Hilly? Would you have gone as far as Minny did for revenge?
October Better World Book Club selection
In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez
Set during the waning days of the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic in 1960, this extraordinary novel tells the story the Mirabal sisters, three young wives and mothers who are assassinated after visiting their jailed husbands.