"They say it's like true love, good help. You only get one in a lifetime."
In her debut novel, The Help
, author Kathryn Stockett goes inside the homes of 1960s Mississippi to show the relationships between young white women and the black maids they employ.
Skeeter, a new Ole Miss graduate, is back home in Jackson, single and living with her parents again. Her two best friends, Elizabeth and Hilly, are both married, with small children and full-time help. As Skeeter observes the relationships between her friends and their maids, she becomes increasingly interested in the lives of the women who take care of her friends' houses and children.
As Hilly pushes her initiative for Junior League members to build separate bathrooms at their homes for "the help," Skeeter is frustrated by the racial lines drawn so firmly, even boldly asking Elizabeth's maid, Aibeleen, "Do you ever wish you could...change things?"
When Skeeter, ironically, takes on the housekeeping advice column at the local paper to get writing experience, she turns to Aibileen to help her ghost write. But, as the relationship matures, a new idea develops.
What if she interviewed some of Jackson's housekeepers (and surrogate mothers) to tell their stories? Would things, in fact, change?
Given the racial atmosphere of the time, it's a dangerous proposition, yet Skeeter and Aibileen join together and take the risk for the greater (potential) good of the project.
I feel like I'm not even doing the summary of this book justice. I had to stop myself from telling the entire story, because it struck such a chord with me.
While I didn't grow up this way, my father did, raised by Matt Eva while his parents worked at their grocery store in a small Georgia town. She stayed on long after he was gone, and I spent my days with her when I visited during the summer as a child. She was as much of an influence on me as my own grandparents.
The Help is so incredibly honest and authentic, and it's impressive that Stockett could tell the story equally well from the perspectives of both Skeeter and Aibileen. The stories from the maids are sad and shocking, as they endure countless acts of abuse and discrimination, but they are also sweet and tender, as these women form powerful relationships with the children in their care, raising them as their own.
This book...this book...is simply amazing.