The Help

I first heard about The Help when NPR interviewed Kathryn Stockett about the book. I was enthralled by the interview and went out and bought the book. Shortly after, it was picked for book club. I read the book in a couple of days.

The book is set in Mississippi at the dawn of the civil rights movement. The story follows Skeeter and her friends and the maids who work for them. Skeeter lives with her parents. She got done with college and unlike her other friends, who went to college to find a husband, she went to college to become a writer. Skeeter does not want to get married.

She gets a job working for the local paper writing the advice column. Since Skeeter’s never had to maintain a household, she asks her friend’s maid, Aibileen, for help with the column. As she talks to Aibileen about tips to get stains out and whatnot, she decides to write a book from the perspective of the maids who raise the kids and maintain the houses.

When she first approaches Aibileen, she refuses to help. But then Medger Evers is murdered. That changes Aibileen and she and Skeeter go about writing the book. Skeeter realizes that she is going to need more maids to tell their stories. The maids are reluctant, but soon enough begin to tell their stories. They all worry that the readers will be able to tell where the book was written and who they are.

Skeeter’s friends are raised in a time and place where it was considered okay to be racist. One of her friends introduces a home-health initiative requiring homes who employ African-Americans to have a separate toilet for them. This woman has a maid Minney, who has attitude, but who can cook like no one else. When Minney flushes the toilet in the house, she is fired. She comes to make amends and brings her famous chocolate pie.

My mom and I went to see the movie and it was very close to the book. I adored the movie. But I suppose it’s easy to make a great movie from a great book. I read that this book was rejected 61 times. I don’t know if I would have the persistence to submit a manuscript that many times, but I’m certainly glad Kathryn Stockett did.

The book is just amazing. It is a story of relationships, friendships, equality, and tolerance. It is told in such an amazing way. My favorite character, though, was Skeeter. She was idealistic and persistent and independent at a time when women were not supposed to be any of those things.

I cannot fathom treating someone as a lower class citizen because of the color of their skin and allow them at the same time to raise my kids. It’s a generation and an era I don’t understand. But Kathryn Stockett does a wonderful job of putting you there. And of making you feel the injustice and the resignation of the maids as they take the bus and walk miles to and from work to help raise their children while spending more time with the white children they take care of.

The book is a vivid reminder that no so very long ago, we relegated an entire race of people to toil and struggle. We are no so far removed from that.

This was the best book I read in 2010. I cannot wait to see what she does next.

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