The Help, by Kathryn Stockett.
Miss Skeeter move her eyes back to the window, on Miss Hilly's Buick. She shake her head, just a little. "Aibileen, that talk in there...Hilly's talk. I mean ..."
I pick up a coffee cup, start drying it real good with my cloth.
"Do you ever wish you could...change things?" she asks.
And I can't help myself. I look at her head on. Cause that's one a the stupidest questions I ever heard. She got a confused, disgusted look on her face, like she done salted her coffee instead a sugared it. - from The Help, page 10 -
The year is 1962. The place is Jackson, Mississippi. The issue is civil rights. Kathryn Stockett's best selling debut novel, The Help, is narrated in the unforgettable voices of three women caught up in history and courageous enough to believe things can change simply by sharing their stories.
Skeeter is the white daughter of a cotton farmer. Despite her mother's wish that she marry a prominent man and become a good Southern wife, Skeeter dreams of a different life for herself -- that of a journalist and novelist. Unlike her closest friends, Skeeter doesn't understand the division between whites and blacks -- least of all the hypocrisy of having black women care for their homes and children, but denying them the use of their bathrooms because of fear of "disease."
Aibileen is the black maid of one of Skeeter's best friends, Elizabeth. Large, loving and sensitive, Aibileen mourns the loss of her son while wrapping her arms and heart around the white children in her care. Skeeter offers her hope of change -- that this new generation might somehow see the racism of their parents and teachers and reject it.
Minny, another black maid who must face the untrue accusation that she is a thief, is filled with energy, honesty and anger. Her unflagging spirit and kind heart lift her above an abusive marriage and give her the courage to join Aibileen and Skeeter in a project which will shake the racist foundation of a town whose views of segregation have stood fast for far too long.
A Dreft commercial comes on and Miss Celia stares out the back window at the colored man raking up the leaves. She's got so many azalea bushes, her yard's going to look like Gone With the Wind come spring. I don't like azaleas and I sure didn't like that movie, the way they made slavery look like a big happy tea party. If I'd played Mammy, I'd of told Scarlett to stick those green draperies up her white little pooper. Make her own damn man-catching dress. - from The Help, page 50 -
Thematically, The Help explores parenting, moral values, the many faces of racism, women's friendships, and the power of joining our voices in a common cause. Skillfully crafted using three narrators in alternating chapters, The Help is a book which is hard to put down. Stockett is a talented storyteller who takes her time in fleshing out her fascinating and complex characters. I found myself growing to care immensely about Aibileen, Minny, and Skeeter. I worried about them, found myself cheering them on, and hoped for a positive resolution of their conflicts. There were moments when I had to remind myself that these were fictional characters, not real people. Perhaps it was the power of their stories, the reminder that less than 50 years ago what they were experiencing was part of our historical record, but Stockett's characters came alive for me. I felt their fears, their joys, their hurts and triumphs. There are very few books which follow me into my dreams -- but The Help was one of these. I went to sleep thinking of the book, and woke up wondering what would happen next in the story.
Kathryn Stockett has written an important novel about what it means to be human regardless of the color of one's skin. Sensitive, disturbing, and ultimately hopeful, The Help is a must read book.
Five stars out of five.
Catch all of Wendy Robard's reviews in her fabulous blog, "Caribousmom".