Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction

Notes: The movie comes out in August.  You can find the trailer here.

Review: I absolutely loved this book.  I fell in love with the characters, the story, and couldn’t put it down.

The novel takes place in Jackson, Mississippi during the 60s.  Racial tensions run high, reports of unspeakable violence done to people trying to integrate the reluctant South dominate the news, and, amongst all of this, Skeeter Phelen returns home from Ole Miss with a Journalism degree.

Reluctantly, Skeeter settles into the life she left in Jackson.  Her mother, furious that she spent four years at school and did not come back married, barks instructions at Skeeter to fix her frizzy hair, wear more ladylike clothes, and act like a lady.  But Skeeter’s always been a little different.  For one, she talks to The Help.

Skeeter’s best friend, Hilly Holbrook, introduces the Home Help Sanitation Initiative.  This initiative will make it unlawful for the hired, black help to use the same toilet as their employers.  In the interest of sanitation, the initiative will  require all white homeowners with hired help to build their maids a separate bathroom. Upon hearing this, Skeeter privately asks Aibileen (her friend Elizabeth’s maid) if she ever wished things were different.

Skeeter and Aibileen then embark on a journey to write a book giving the maid’s perspective on caring for white families.  Their book, titled “Help,” interviews a dozen maids around town who tell varying tales of love and horror while working for the families around Jackson.

The maids Skeeter interviews, Aibileen and Minny being the most prominent, have less to do with the story than I thought possible.  The book seems to be told almost exclusively from Skeeter’s point of view.  Which, I think is smart of Stockett because that’s the only point of view she knows.  I feel in love with the characters, especially Minny, but they seems a little contrived.  They are smart, intelligent women and give the story added depth, but this novel really doesn’t go much deeper than entertainment.  It is not trying to change the past, apologize for any wrong doings, or help shape the future.

I loved reading this book.   A white woman writing about black maids in Mississippi?  Tread lightly, because there are landmines are far as the eye can see on that subject.  Writing about race is difficult, almost impossible, to write about without offending someone.   What I liked best about Stockett’s approach is that she never set out to write a book about race relations.  She set out to write a book about women and how, no matter what the color of our skin, there are more things that bond us together as women than keep us apart. I think Stockett would have run into trouble if she assumed she knew everything about being a black maid in Mississippi.  But she doesn’t.  She doesn’t assume she knows what it’s like to be black.  Stockett’s novel simply tells us that the relationship between the races is complicated.  No write writer can, or ever will, get it right.

Bottom Line: This book is incredibly entertaining.  It kept me up late into the night turning pages and reading feverishly.  When I finished, I felt disappointed.  I wanted it to continue!  And really, isn’t that the best indicators of a good book?

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