This book certainly lived up to its hype. I laughed. I cried. I couldn’t put it down. And I saw so much of myself in Skeeter. Would I have been as brave as her? No. No way. But in her ambitions and her determination to not live the life so many other people had planned for her — to make her own way — I do see myself in that.
The book is told from the point of view of three main characters — Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny. Aibileen is a middle-aged maid, a black woman who has been working for white families since she was young. Minny, a black woman in her 30s, is also a maid and has been working in the homes of white families since her early teen years, (and has gotten fired many, many times because of her “sass”). Skeeter is a 23-year-old white woman, just out of college. She is single and still lives at home on her family’s farm (plantation). Skeeter has ambitions of becoming a journalist. But she is stuck in Mississippi.
An unlikely group, to be sure.
Skeeter writes to inquire about a job in New York, but has next to no experience. An editor, Missus Stein, tells her that she needs more practical knowledge of journalism — she needs to work her writing chops, if you will. Her suggestion to Skeeter is to write about something no one else is writing about, something that matters.
Skeeter seeks experience. She begins writing a weekly domestic help column in the local newspaper. The problem is, she doesn’t know much about cleaning or cooking or taking care of children. So she goes to the next best source for this information: her friend Elizabeth’s maid, Aibileen.
Meanwhile, the Civil Rights movement has begun. Things are happening. Buses have become integrated. The first black student has begun studying at Ole Miss. Black men and women are allowed to sit at the counter at the Woolworth’s…
Skeeter takes all of this in as she attends Junior League meetings and plays bridge with her high school friends. Her relationship with Aibileen grows. Hilly, her long-time close friend and President of the Junior League, has introduced a “Home Health Sanitation” initiative that seeks to provide separate bathrooms to “the help” — for cleanliness. According to Hilly, black people have different diseases, and she says it is just the proper way.
Skeeter cannot stand the way the maids are treated by her fellow white women — and wants to do something about it. Finally, she has an idea. She seeks Aibileen’s help and, together with Minny, they come up with a project to tell the maids’ side of the story.
Of course, the book has lots of other plot lines. Skeeter has a love interest, Minny and Hilly have a ridiculous history that plays out in the end, Aibileen gets a new beginning…
I am always shocked when I read even fictional things about this time in our country’s history. I’m appalled and saddened by the way people were, and STILL ARE, treated in many parts of the U.S. To many of us, this seems like ages ago. We like to say we don’t see in color. But we can’t forget that some people still do — and we have to keep stories like this alive so more and more people can actually live out being an American. (Which to me means being able to get a good education and have opportunities to work hard and make something of yourself!)
Okay, mini rant over!
Like I said earlier, I really identified with the character of Skeeter. We have quite a few things in common, including the fact that we’re both tall and have extremely frizzy hair. Other than that, I saw myself in her dreams and ambitions to leave Jackson. (Kind of like how I would have felt stuck had I stayed in St. Louis. It’s home, but it’s not where I need to be right now.) She wanted to make something of herself, and was busy balancing people’s expectations of her with her own expectations for her life. Also, she was awkward and not such a hit with the men-folk — which seemed familiar. And she was my age…so there was that.
Basically, I cannot recommend this book more. Read it — you won’t regret it.
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
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