Enter a vanished world: Jackson, Mississippi, 1962. Where black maids raise white children, but aren’t trusted not to steal the silver…
There’s Aibileen, raising her seventeenth white child and nursing the hurt caused by her own son’s tragic death; Minny, whose cooking is nearly as sassy as her tongue; and white Miss Skeeter, home from college, who wants to know why her beloved maid disappeared.
Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny. No one would believe they would be friends; fewer still would tolerate it. But as each woman finds the courage to cross boundaries, they come to depend and rely upon one another. Each is in search of the truth. And together they have an extraordinary story to tell…
The Help is one of the books that I received for my birthday. I watched the film with my friends when it was on TV on New Year’s Eve and I loved it. I previously hadn’t considered reading the book, skipping over it in the library because I didn’t think it would be my sort of thing. I’ve been learning recently that I need to stop doing this; all the books that I’ve branched out of my comfort zone to read I have absolutely loved. I might give myself a challenge to try to read a book I wouldn’t usually chose once a month because I think I’ll probably be pleasantly surprised.
The book is narrated by the three main characters: two black maids, Aibileen and Minny, and a white girl who has just finished college and is known to everyone as Skeeter (her real name is Eugenia). Skeeter comes home to Jackson and soon begins to realise how much of an outsider she is among her old friends, who are all married housewives living to please their husbands and project an image of perfection to the rest of the community. Her two closest friends, Elizabeth Leefolt and Hilly Holbrook keep trying to set Skeeter up on a blind date, willing her to settle down into Jackson’s idea of the perfect life. Skeeter also faces the same pressures from her mother at home who is desperate for her daughter to find a husband. However, Skeeter knows she craves more and finds herself a job writing the domestic ‘Miss Myrna’ column for the Jackson Journal. This isn’t quite what she was hoping for, but when she gets a phone call from Harper and Row in New York, she knows she has to come up with something that will impress them.
Skeeter’s friend Hilly starts a new project: ‘The Home Help Sanitation Initiative’, which is installing separate bathrooms into white houses for the black maids to use so they do not have to share the same toilets because of ‘the diseases’ the black women carry. This irks Skeeter, especially when they are discussing it in front of Aibileen, and plants an innovative idea of a topic that she could write about. She approaches Aibileen and asks her if she can interview her about what it is like to work for a white family. Aibileen is initially very reluctant, fearful of the severe consequences they are likely to face. However, when the racial tensions in Jackson increase, she realises she wants things to change and agrees to talk to Skeeter.
The story continues as more maids, including Minny, begin to share their stories with Skeeter. Some of the stories are good, many, however, are not, with accusations of theft, and bleach being provided as handwash. Skeeter works frantically to collect all the stories, with the help of Aibileen, for the deadline she has been given. They become increasingly close as the story continues, and the invisible boundary between them becomes forgotten.
I won’t spoil the rest of the story for you, because I would definitely say that it is worth a read. It shows that although attitudes towards race still need to improve they have come an awfully long way in the past 50 years.
You is kind. You is smart. You is important.