A good friend recommended that I read The Help by Kathryn Stockett. As I usually do when someone tells me about a new must read, I explained that I would consider the novel after I worked my way through the pile of YA and middle grade books waiting for me. This time, though, Sue insisted that I check out The Help. Since she is one of those treasured friends who shares my taste in reading, I listened. Wow, am I glad that I did. I loved The Help. Enough to blog about it in the hope of sharing the joy.
The Help is set in 1962. In Mississippi. The story is told in the unique and alternating voices of three women: Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter, a recent college grad; Wise Aibleen, a black maid raising her seventeenth white child; and Minny, Aibileen's sassy and mouthy best friend who also happens to be a black maid. Each of these characters is appealing and likeable, complicated and tragic. The kind of characters that hang out with you long after you close the book cover on them.
Skeeter’s mother is make-you-cringe critical. And determined to marry off tall Skeeter with the out of control hair. So, it’s not even a little surprising that Skeeter misses the friendship and support and love of her beloved maid Constantine, the black woman who raised her. But Constantine has mysteriously disappeared. Those in the know won’t say why or where she has gone, at least in the beginning of the novel.
Aibileen is appealing, at least to me, because something has shifted inside her since the tragic loss of her only son, who died as a result of questionable circumstances. Despite the racial injustices she has spent her life living with, feeling them down to her bones, she is devoted to the little white girl that she looks after. Yet Aibileen knows that her heart is destined to be broken when the little girl grows old enough to acknowledge the difference in their skin colors. Talk about compelling.
Minny is total entertainment with her spunk and sass. I adored Minny because she knows very well that her acid and vinegar get her into serious trouble, yet she can’t help herself. And under all of that attitude beats a big heart. Despite herself, she feels compassion and sympathy for the dippy woman that she works for. This relationship becomes a story within the story. And it’s great.
Without giving too much away, I’ll just tell you that these women come together for a clandestine project that puts them at incredible risk. However, it also defines them as well as the biases, politics, and race relations of their times.
This is a novel about the lines that are made by some and crossed by others for the greater good of humanity. The story moved me, made me laugh and brought a tear to my eye more than once. It is a story about courage and hope. I am really grateful that I read it just as 2009 came to a close. And now it sits on my favorites shelf, waiting to be revisited.