A delightfully candid and moving novel about racial issues in 1960’s South, it tells the story of two black maids and their experience being “the help” of white middle-class housewives from Jackson, Mississippi. Prompted by an aspiring writer – a young white woman in her early twenties – the two maids and a number of others begin to share their stories so as to be published in a book. Although seemingly simple, the plot kept me on the edge of my seat. This, for three (good) reasons.
One, there are three narrators – two maids (Aibileen and Minny) and the aspiring writer (Skeeter). Their voices and perspectives are distinct. I could tell who’s writing at any point of the book, just by the style. (Of course, I could only accomplish this feat after I was done with the book, not to begin with)
Second, the story unfolds in layers. There’s the routine, domestic side of their everyday life – silver-polishing, bridge clubs, potty training, nagging mother who is afraid her daughter won’t get married, etc. There’s the grand scheme of things that you get a glimpse of every now and then – when they mention JFK’s assassination, or Martin Luther King’s upcoming marches, amongst others. There’s the realisation that in some intricate way these two – the domestic, local and the grand, national – are inseparably linked.
Third, because I worried. Oh my, did I worry. I grew to like the main characters, so I couldn’t bear the thought that something horrible might happen to them. The possibility for something bad to happen to black maids and a white woman writing a book about segregation in the South was high to say the least. The author makes this fact quite clear throughout the book, by mentioning a number of incidents – a young black man getting beat to blindness because of using “white” toilet – being only one of them.
Last thing I need to mention is that it was awfully difficult to put this book down. In fact, I am grateful for my wonderful husband, who offered to make dinner just so I could finish it. You are the best husband a bookworm could wish for.
If you’re looking for a book that will draw you in from the first pages and leave no room for a social life until you’re done with it, I recommend The Help.
Have you read it? What are some other books you just couldn’t put down?