The Help by Kathryn Stockett. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2009. 451p. (978-0-399-15534-5)
So much has already been said and written about this book. But I wanted to review this in honor of Black History Month. I saw the movie before I read the book and I thought it was a very good adaptation. A couple things were changed or shortened of course but overall I liked the movie. If you don’t read the book, watch the movie. But if you're planning on reading the book, don't watch the movie until afterwards, otherwise you'll know the Terrible, Awful Thing and that takes away from the plot (at least it did for me).
Set in the early 1960s, the book is written from the point of view of three women – Aibileen, Miss Skeeter, and Minny. Aibileen and Minny are both maids in Jackson, Mississippi. Miss Skeeter, whose actual name is Eugenia Phelan, has just graduated from college and wants to become a writer, but her mother wants her to get married like the rest of her peers. Aibileen and Minny both work for some of Miss Skeeter’s friends. And Skeeter gets to know them when she gets a job writing a cleaning advice column for the local newspaper but knows nothing about cleaning.
Before graduating Skeeter had applied to a job in New York with a famous publishing house, a senior editor took interest in Skeeter and encouraged her to send her best ideas in. She did but Ms. Stein told her to find something she was more passionate about. And that’s when it hit her. To write about life in Jackson, Mississippi from the point of view of the help. A risky busy, considering the racial tensions in Jackson, the civil rights movement underway and the KKK. It isn’t easy for Skeeter to convince Aibileen to join her in this venture and it isn’t easy for Aibileen to convince other maids to tell their stories.
But this isn’t just a story about three ladies who join forces to write a book from a controversial point of view. It is the story of what daily life was like for black maids in 1962/63 Mississippi. It is the story of a single, college educated, career desiring young lady living in a time when all the girls she knew were married and had only gone to college to find a husband. It is a story that makes Jim Crow laws come to life. And it shows that everyone has hopes and dreams and secrets no matter what their station in life might be.
I liked this book. It opens a window onto an era and setting that I have not read much about and that is very different (and yet not different) from life today. Kathryn Stockett does an excellent job in giving life to her characters and weaving the story together as it is told from three points of view.