Set in the early sixties in Jackson, Mississippi, The Help is an incredible debut novel told from the point of view of three different narrators: Aibileen, a single black woman in her fifties is a domestic for a young family with one child: Minny is a younger married woman with a houseful of kids, an abusive husband and a very sharp tongue that has lost her many a job. Skeeter Phelan, a white,single recent graduate from Ole Miss still residing with her parents, is the only woman in her sorority sisters' bridge club who has a dream to do something with her life. Skeeter wants to become a writer and manages to interest a publisher in a possible book about black domestics and their relationship to their white employers. In a dichotomous society and a time of increasing racial tensions, this was a dangerous thing to do, both for Skeeter and for the maids. Racing against a seemingly impossible deadline, Skeeter, Aibileen, Minny and 10 other maids manage to secretly write the book that eventually causes a social brouhaha while changing the lives of all involved. Although they had some fears and doubts at times, these courageous women were but a small beginning catalyst in the fight for civil rights.
This book made me run the gamut of emotions; from mad to sad to glad. It made me mad to see how the white women treated the black women as if they were invisible and unfeeling. At one point in the book, Aibileen tells Skeeter that she had commented that black people attend too much church and that comment had stuck with Aibileen. Skeeter wondered what else she had said ,"never suspecting the help was listening or cared". They expected their maids to do all the housework and cooking while paying them next to nothing. It seems ludicrous that while the maids were entrusted with the most important job of virtually raising their employers' children, they were not even allowed to use their employers' bathrooms. It made me sad to see how they were treated as if they had no human feelings at all and how they were supposed to be grateful, never complain or feel any indignity at their treatment. The book also made me glad because Skeeter, one of the kindest of the white women, managed to put one of her own sorority sisters in her place. She also came to understand they were all sisters under the skin and to get an idea of what the domestics had to put up with in their lives. Aibileen tried to give the white children she raised a sense of respect for themselves and other people at the same time that she gave them a lot of love. Ms. Stockett does a wonderful job giving voice to all her characters bringing them, their surroundings and their feelings so vividly to life. The social tensions of the times are also very well done. I found it extremely easy to visualize every scenario in the book and deeply empathized with the characters. It's heartrending, poignant and uplifting all at the same time.
The Help is one book I found really easy to become immersed in and hard to put down. Ms. Stockett is a very talented writer and I am sure this is an auspicious beginning to her career. Be sure to read her, Too Little Too Late thoughts at the end of the book after the acknowledgements. It will give you a sense of the influences in how and why she came to write the book . Highly recommended. 5*