Title: The Help
Author: Kathryn Stockett
Publication Date: February, 2009
Description: Three ordinary women are about to take one extraordinary step.
Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.
Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.
Minny, Aibileen's best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody's business, but she can't mind her tongue, so she's lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.
Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.
In pitch-perfect voices, Kathryn Stockett creates three extraordinary women whose determination to start a movement of their own forever changes a town, and the way women - mothers, daughters, caregivers, friends - view one another. A deeply moving novel filled with poignancy, humor, and hope, The Help is a timeless and universal story about the lines we abide by, and the ones we don't.
My Thoughts: I started this book with the suspicion that it was going to be a story that would be powerful and compelling but also hard to read and I was right. 1962 Mississippi is a very different place than what we are used to now. Women are expected to get married and have children after finishing college, not seek careers. The women’s rights movement hasn’t even begun yet, but the civil rights movement is starting. All across the country, heinous crimes are being committed against black people who dare to break the laws as written by white government. The act of sitting in the wrong seat on a city bus or using a “whites only” bathroom could result in a near-death beating. White people who speak up for black people or who try to help with the civil rights movement are arrested or imprisoned as well. It’s a very different society than today, a very scary society.
This story centers primarily around three women. Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan who has just returned home from Ole Miss to discover the maid who raised her is no longer with the family and nobody will tell her what happened. Aibileen Clark is a black maid working for Skeeter’s friend, Elizabeth Leefolt. She has suffered in her life and now devotes her heart and soul to the white children she now raises. Minny Jackson is Aibileen’s best friend and works for another of Skeeter’s friends, Hilly Holbrook. Minny is outspoken and has lost several jobs because of it, including her present job. The only job Minny can secure now is with Celia Foote, who is considered socially unacceptable and doesn’t know about Minny’s reputation.
Initially, Skeeter begins interviewing Aibileen for assistance on writing a cleaning advice column for the newspaper. After a publisher in New York City tells Skeeter to write about something that concerns her, especially if it doesn’t concern anyone else, she begins interviewing Aibileen on what it is like to be a black maid cooking and cleaning and raising white children. I got a very good sense of how dangerous it was for Skeeter and Aibileen to be meeting and if they were caught, how much trouble they would both be in. The project eventually catches the interest of several of the other maids and Skeeter begins interviewing them as well.
I loved this book. I felt like I was in the room with Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny. These characters are people you can care about. The author draws you in and you get to know the characters and begin to relate to and empathize with them. It wasn’t enough to read about what these women were doing, the story pulls you in so deeply that you feel like you are really there. When Medgar Evers is shot, I could feel the fear and apprehension Aibileen and Minny felt for their own lives and the lives of their children. I felt extreme anger at Hilly Holbrook and her bigoted attitude. I wanted to slap her into the middle of next week. I felt disgust at Elizabeth Leefolt for the way she treats her children. This book made me mad, made me laugh and made me cry. I recommend this book if you are looking for a book about people who cross all barriers to tell the truth, no matter how difficult or the cost.
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