The Help spent 379 days in the Amazon Top 100 list. It has 1,751 reviews on and rates 4.5 stars. It is a novel, but, as Lanie Tankard argues, it deserves consideration from a memoir perspective.


The Help by Kathryn Stockett

New York: Amy Einhorn Books (Putnam), 2009.

Available in hardcover, paperback, audiobook, CD, and Kindle editions.

Movie in the works.

Reviewed by Lanie Tankard

The Help is a testament to the power of memoir, even though it is a novel. It’s actually a book about writing a book — a metabook. And the writing is clear and pure and true.

Kathryn Stockett has created powerful voices for three main characters, and alternates them in chapters much like Barbara Kingsolver did to great effect in THE POISONWOOD BIBLE. The reader is thus privy to different views of the events as the lives of the characters intertwine.

The story is set in Jackson, Mississippi, during the civil rights movement of the Sixties, and eloquently illustrates the boundaries between the help and their employers. This wise book captures a time period important in our history as a country. Even the cover is brilliant both in color and design, and is a subtle portrayal of the book’s theme.

The Help captures the edge — that space between marginalized peoples and those in power by virtue of skin color, gender, age, wealth, heritage, wedding ring, beauty, or Junior League membership.

As a young woman of the privileged class begins to collect stories of the help to publish in a book, the activity changes them all. The maids without power begin to find strength through the telling of their stories, although they fear for their lives. Even the writer’s life is changed while collecting these stories as she begins to view her town through the eyes of the maids.

The simple act of putting down on paper the events of one’s life is empowering. The Help gives pause for thought and should foster deep discussions about prejudice of all types. The book is rich with insight for writers of memoir.

Shirley Showalter


  1. brendabartellapeterson on March 11, 2010 at 9:23 pm

    I was inspired by reading The Help to include a section in my upcoming memoir about what I learned from LaLa during the 25 years she worked as my housekeeper. The great irony was that I came from such poverty, she taught me! And together we forged a deep friendship that continues across several states. The link below connects you directly to this excerpt from my memoir.

  2. shirleyhs on March 12, 2010 at 8:47 pm

    Brenda, Thanks for offering this comment. You confirm the connection between fiction and memoir. And also the connection between reading and writing. Whether I am reading a novel or a memoir, I often get an idea about sub jects relevant to my own writing. All the best with your memoir, and come back and comment again!

  3. whollyjeanne on March 27, 2010 at 2:54 am

    i'll tell you what: kathryn has southern dialects down pat. southern women's ways, too, fortunately and unfortuantely.

  4. […] Just off the top of my head, I can think of at least three. The Help, reviewed by Lanie Tankard, here, was one of […]

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