Excerpt from The Help by Kathryn Stockett, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Help

By Kathryn Stockett

The Help
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  • Hardcover: Feb 2009,
    464 pages.
    Paperback: Apr 2011,
    528 pages.

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Excerpt
The Help

Two days later, I sit in my parent’s kitchen, waiting for dusk to fall.  I give in and light another cigarette even though last night the surgeon general came on the television set and shook his finger at everybody, trying to convince us that smoking will kill us.  But Mother once told me tongue kissing would turn me blind and I’m starting to think it’s all just a big plot between the surgeon general and Mother to make sure no one ever has any fun.

At eight o’clock that same night, I’m stumbling down Aibileen’s street as discreetly as one can carrying a fifty-pound Corona typewriter.  I knock softly, already dying for another cigarette to calm my nerves.  Aibileen answers and I slip inside.  She’s wearing the same green dress and stiff black shoes as last time.

I try to smile, like I’m confident it will work this time, despite the idea she explained over the phone.  “Could we… sit in the kitchen this time?” I ask.  “Would you mind?”

“Alright.  Ain’t nothing to look at, but come on back.”

The kitchen is about half the size of the living room and warmer.  It smells like tea and lemons.  The black-and-white linoleum floor has been scrubbed thin.  There’s just enough counter for the china tea set.

I set the typewriter on a scratched red table under the window.  Aibileen starts to pour the hot water into the teapot.

“Oh, none for me, thanks,” I say and reach in my bag.  “I brought us some Co-Colas if you want one.”  I’ve tried to come up with ways to make Aibileen more comfortable.   Number One: Don’t make Aibileen feel like she has to serve me.

“Well, ain’t that nice.  I usually don’t take my tea till later anyway.”  She brings over an opener and two glasses.  I drink mine straight from the bottle and seeing this, she pushes the glasses aside, does the same.

I called Aibileen after Elizabeth gave me the note, and listened hopefully, as Aibileen told me her idea—for her to write her own words down and then show me what she’s written.  I tried to act excited.  But I know I’ll have to rewrite everything she’s written, wasting even more time.  I thought it might make it easier if she could see it in type-face instead of me reading it and telling her it can’t work this way.

We smile at each other.  I take a sip of my Coke, smooth my blouse.  “So…” I say.

Aibileen has a wire-ringed notebook in front of her.  “Want me to… just go head and read?”

“Sure,” I say.

We both take deep breaths and she begins reading in a slow, steady voice.

“My first white baby to ever look after was named Alton Carrington Speers.  It was 1924 and I’d just turned fifteen years old.  Alton was a long, skinny baby with hair fine as silk on a corn…”

I begin typing as she reads, her words rhythmic, pronounced more clearly than her usual talk.  “Every window in that filthy house was painted shut on the inside, even though the house was big with a wide green lawn.  I knew the air was bad, felt sick myself…”

“Hang on,” I say.  I’ve typed wide greem.  I blow on the typing fluid, retype it.  “Okay, go ahead.”

“When the mama died, six months later,” she reads, “of the lung disease, they kept me on to raise Alton until they moved away to Memphis.  I loved that baby and he loved me and that’s when I knew I was good at making children feel proud of themselves…”

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Excerpted from The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Copyright © 2009 by Kathryn Stockett. Excerpted by permission of Penguin Goup (USA). All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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