The Help by Kathryn Stockett (Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam) was originally published in February 2009, and is still on the hardcover bestseller list (#12 this week according to Publishers Weekly). That makes 73 weeks in a row. The paperback is currently scheduled for December 2011 (?!). No doubt another wave of popularity will surface next summer–the movie version is set to release in August 2011.
The Help has incredible appeal to many different groups of readers, teens among them. This is one of the rare books that I stock in multiple copies (we are a small school), and it provided an excellent student bookgroup discussion last year. I’m sure many of you have experienced the same success with this title.
Today’s book is a paperback original not to be missed, and a great read-alike for two teen favorites, The Help and The Secret Life of Bees.
I would add one more recent title to that read-alike list: Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman (Penguin, 2010), just released in paperback. A gentle, sweet historical southern novel featuring a young protagonist, this one is appropriate for even the youngest teen readers.
Adult/High School–For 11-year-old Florence, “normal” means that Daddy disappears into the night whenever he gets a phone call, carrying the fancy wood box that has been passed down from his father and grandfather. It also means cruising around at night while her mother visits the Negro bootleggers, passing them mysterious notes. In 1963, she has little access to news of the world at large, living in the insular universe of family and friends. So Florence has only a vague understanding of the racial tensions in her Mississippi town. She knows that her grandparents’ black housekeeper, Zenie, is one of the few people who make her feel like “precious cargo,” but she cannot comprehend the connections between her father’s nighttime activities, her mother’s increasingly erratic behavior, and the silences that surround Florence at Zenie’s home. Teen readers who enjoyed Kathryn Stockett’s The Help will find this book to have the same personalized examination of race relations in the South at a critical turning point in history. As Florence begins “forgetting things,” readers become aware that she is being sexually abused, although her memories are so pain-soaked that she is unable to make sense of them until she has grown up. The slow unwinding of the story recalls the feel of an oppressive Mississippi summer, bruising the characters with its inescapable force. In an appendix, Gwin shares further information about her experiences growing up in the South.–Diane Colson, New Port Richey Library, FL