I’d been hearing about The Help by Kathryn Stockett for a while and intended to read it eventually, but when I saw a trailer for the movie at the cinema I thought I’d better get a move on. And I’m so glad I did.
It is the early 1960s, Skeeter is 22 years old and has returned home to racially conflicted Mississippi after graduating college. Her closest friends are married with children and her mother keeps urging (and by that I mean ‘nagging’) her to head in the same direction. But Skeeter wants to be a journalist – she’s the editor of the Women’s League newsletter and writes a housekeeping column for the local newspaper. Like many people of that time, she was brought up by a black maid called Constantine who she felt closer to than her real mother and even while she was at college, the two would exchange letters frequently. Then Constantine disappears without a word. Skeeter knows her mother has something to do with it, but when she broaches the subject her mother won’t talk about it. And none of the other maids will either.
Aibileen and Minny are friends and both are black maids. Aibileen is a wise woman, usually the voice of reason, raising her 17th white child. Minny is unpredictable and her hot temper has cost her several jobs.
These three extraordinary women come together and risk everything to write a book about black women working for white families. Because of the racial tension at the time, the three of them need to have clandestine meetings and constantly fear discovery. There are tales of hate, mistrust and abuse, but there are good ones too – about love, support, respect.
The author has been criticised for turning serious issues such as racism and the civil rights movement into light reading. But doesn’t this make the novel more accessible and make more people want to read it? Isn’t that the whole point of writing it?
It is surprising, funny, sad and engrossing – everything you could want from a book – and this one is going to stay with me for a long time…
I need to read five more books this year if I’m going to achieve my goal of 20 books in 2011!