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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I hadn’t wanted to insult Aibileen when she told me her idea.  I tried to urge her out of it, over the phone.  “Writing isn’t that easy.  And you wouldn’t have time for this anyway, Aibileen, not with a full-time job.”

“Can’t be much different than writing my prayers every night.”

It was the first interesting thing she’d told me about herself since we’d started the project, so I’d grabbed the shopping pad in the pantry.  “You don’t say your prayers, then?”

“I never told nobody that before.  Not even Minny.  Find I can get my point across a lot better writing em down.”

“So this is what you do on the weekends?” I asked.  “In your spare time?”  I liked the idea of capturing her life outside of work, when she wasn’t under the eye of Elizabeth Leefolt.

“Oh no, I write a hour, sometimes two ever day.  Lot a ailing, sick peoples in this town.”

I was impressed.  That was more than I wrote on some days.  I told her we’d try it just to get the project going again.

Aibileen takes a breath, a swallow of Coke, and reads on.

She backtracks to her first job at thirteen, cleaning the Francis the First silver service at the governor’s mansion.  She reads how on her first morning, she made a mistake on the chart where you filled in the number of pieces so they’d know you hadn’t stolen anything. 

“I come home that morning, after I been fired, and stood outside my house with my new work shoes on.  The shoes my mama paid a month’s worth a light bill for.  I guess that’s when I understood what shame was and the color of it too.  Shame ain’t black, like dirt, like I always thought it was.  Shame be the color of a new white uniform your mother ironed all night to pay for, white without a smudge or a speck a work-dirt on it.”

Aibileen looks up to see what I think.  I stop typing.  I’d expected the stories to be sweet, glossy.   I realize I might be getting more than I’d bargained for.  She reads on.

“…so I go on and get the chiffarobe straightened out and before I know it, that little white boy done cut his fingers clean off in that window fan I asked her to take out ten times.  I never seen that much red come out a person and I grab the boy, I grab them four fingers.  Tote him to the colored hospital cause I didn’t know where the white one was.  But when I got there, a colored man stop me and say, Is this boy white?” The typewriter keys are clacking like hail on a roof.  Aibileen is reading faster and I am ignoring my mistakes, stopping her only to put in another page.  Every eight seconds, I fling the carriage aside.

“And I say, Yessuh, and he say, Is them his white fingers?  And I say, Yessuh, and he say, We,ll you better tell em he your high yellow cause that colored doctor won’t operate on a white boy in a Negro hospital.  And then a white policeman grab me and he say, Now you look a here—”

She stops.  Looks up.  The clacking ceases.

“What?  The policeman said look a here what?”

“Well, that’s all I put down.  Had to catch the bus for work this morning.”

I hit the return and the typewriter dings.  Aibileen and I look each other straight in the eye.  I think this might actually work.

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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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