The Help by Kathryn Stockett
My daughter gave me The Help by Kathryn Stockett as part of my Christmas present a year or two ago. It had been her favourite book of the year. When I started reading it, I was not sure I would enjoy it, but because of the strong recommendation, I persevered. I am very glad that I did. The Help is a unique book of singular perception and quality. It was the debut novel of Kathryn Stockett who is an American novelist born in Jackson, Mississippi, USA in 1969. The Help, is about African-American maids working in white households in Jackson, Mississippi, during the 1960s. It is not the kind of novel that I would normally seek.
This book was fantastic: it made me laugh and cry. The Help also evoked incredible anger in me in its description of the deplorable conditions that black people endured: physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It helped me understand the monumental history of the Civil Rights Movement.
The Help is a story told by three women: Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan, Aibileen and Minny. Skeeter is part of the white society for whom Aibileen and Minny work. She has a degree but her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine who raised her, but she has gone and no one will tell Skeeter where she is. Aibileen is a black maid, a wise woman who raising her seventeenth white child. However, something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son. He died while his bosses looked the other way. Aibileen is devoted to the little girl she looks after, Mae Mobley. The scenes between Aibileen and Mae Mobley are poignant. Mae Mobley was an adorable toddler whose mother was a hopeless excuse for a mother. Minny is Aibileen’s best friend. She is short, fat, and can cook like nobody’s business, but she cannot mind her tongue. As a result of this, she keeps losing jobs. 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.
These three women each speak with different voices, and are beautifully drawn by the author. They come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. They do so because they are all suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. Lines that are made to be crossed.
The Help is a delightful book. I highly recommend it.