Here is my review originally posted on March 31, 2009
It's 1962 and Skeeter Phelan has returned to Longleaf, her family's cotton farm in Jackson, Mississippi after graduating college from Ole Miss. Her mother still insists on calling it a plantation, a term Skeeter would rather forget. According to her mother, coming home from college with a degree wasn't enough. She is reminded almost daily that most girls come home with fiance's, but not Skeeter. Getting married is not on the top of her list. She has a dream of becoming a journalist.
Her two best friends, Hilly and Elizabeth are both married with young children and are very involved in the community. Like Skeeter's family they have black maids who cook, clean and take care of the children, with whom they become very close. Skeeter, herself was raised by a black woman who worked for her family for 29 years. But when she came home from college she learned that she was gone and no one would tell her why. Constantine was like a mother to Skeeter and she felt ashamed that she didn't show enough appreciation for the woman who dedicated much of her life to raising her.
As she spends more time with her friends, Skeeter notices things that she wouldn't have given a second thought to before. Maybe it's because of Constantine's mysterious absence or could it be she's seeing her friends through different eyes?
When Hilly makes a big deal about Elizabeth's maid, Aiblileen, using the same bathroom the family uses, she convinces Elizabeth to talk her husband into building one in the garage for the help. Skeeter can see the humiliation on Aiblileen's face while the other two white women talk openly in front of her about their fear of catching diseases from blacks. Skeeter begins to realize how degrading this is for Aibileen and she doesn't like it.
Skeeter gets hired on at the local newspaper to do a weekly column on housecleaning, but since she's never actually done any, she gets permission from Elizabeth to ask Aibilieen for help. In writing these articles, Skeeter and Aibileen get more acquainted and eventually Skeeter confides to her that she wants to write about important things - not household cleaning tips. She wants to write a book from black women's perspectives on what it's really like to work for a white woman in Jackson. An honest, truthful account. But Skeeter can't do this alone. She'll need Aibileen's help to convince other maids to come forward, because no black woman is going to talk to a white woman about that. Not without someone they know and trust being there. If word got out they could lose their jobs or worse. Both women understand that this could be a very dangerous thing. It is, after all, the height of the Civil Rights Movement and the year Medgar Evers was shot and killed in his own front yard by the KKK right there in Jackson. Skeeter's decision to write this book will have a profound effect on her life. Lines will be drawn and choices will be made that cannot be undone.
THE HELP by Kathryn Stockett is without a doubt on my list of Best Books of 2009. It's hard to believe this is a debut novel. Kathryn Stockett speaks the language of the south seamlessly with her truly unique and believable characters. The voices of the three women who tell this incedible story are genuine and at times raw with emotion. Her skilled storytelling has a mix of drama, humor and a true sadness at the reality of what life was like in the South before the Civil Rights Movement.
Living in the south myself, and having been cared for by a black maid when my family lived in New Orleans when I was a baby, at times I felt shame for how these women were treated by their white employers. They went to work everyday leaving their pride at home while they were made to feel less than, while raising and loving their white babies with little or no gratitude at all. That was very evident with the character of Aibileen, which was my favorite character. Aibileen tells much of the story and her voice painfully portrays the hurt and struggles of her life.
Aibileen's best friend Minny is quite a character who I adored. I loved her sense of humor and even her defiant nature, especially when trying not to show affection for people she didn't want to like. I laughed the most when Minny was talking. Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny each have their own reasons for getting involved in such a project. Many people they know will likely never understand why they would put themselves in so much danger.
As it states in the back of the book and on her website, Kathryn Stockett tells this story with experience, being raised by a black maid herself in Jackson, Mississippi. It's obvious this is a subject near to her heart. You can feel it in her writing. I can't say enough about this wonderful book and would recommend it highly to anyone looking for a deep, satisfying story of a painful time in our nation's history.
Author: Kathyrn Stockett
Published: February 2009
Rating: 5 out of 5 (Amazing!/Wonderful!/Highly Recommended!)