It’s the 1960’s.
Life is good if you’re a southern belle with a rich husband. But what if you’re a black maid like Abileen or Minny? Abileen has raised nearly 20 white babies, only to see them turn from loving infants to just too good for her. Minny can’t hardly keep her mouth shut, like a good maid would, and finds herself in danger of unemployment more than once. But she’s one of the most coveted bakers in town.
And then there’s Miss Skeeter. She’s white, but being nearly 25 without a husband has labeled her as an old maid. Her mother is nearly frantic in her determination to find the girl a husband before it’s to late.
The Help by Kathryn Stockett is an engaging novel about life ‘back then,’ when simpler times and an image of perfect happiness hid a raging storm happening behind the scenes.
One of the things that most captivated me about this book was its voice. Written in first person from the views of Abileen, Minny, and Miss Skeeter, the characters come to life and their fears and dreams given breath. Although separated by a society that judged one’s worth by the color of their skin, they find their way to each other. And despite the risk — a risk even of death or mutilation — they take a step of faith and decide to write a book about what it’s like being a black maid in the south. A book full of made-up names but based completely on the truth as told by the maids in town.
I also loved how the author took such a serious topic and somehow still kept the book feeling positive. The characters face their share of heartache and struggles. There’s cruel white women who believe that maids carry special diseases. And fearful white women who are afraid to tell their husband that a maid is even working at the house. There’s death. And sickness. And shootings.
But amidst the struggle, there is light. Abileen telling stories to the little white girl in her care, trying to teach her that the color of skin doesn’t make the person inside. Minny teaching a housewife how to cook. An entire congregation of black southerners standing up and declaring that Miss Skeeter — a white woman — was a true friend. And she, in turn, finding disgust in the segregation laws she has grown up surrounded by.
Even the voice with which the characters ‘speak’ is smart and strong, as though years have toughened them enough to see past the immediate pain and into the humor and the hope.
It’s been a while since I bought a book and was actually glad that I had made a purchase instead of a visit to the library. This book definitely won two thumbs up and has found a place in my personal library.
Have you read The Help? (There’s actually a movie coming out soon!).