The Help is set in the early 1960′s in Jackson, Mississippi at a time when the county is on the cusp of change. The main body of the story follows the lives of three characters; Skeeter, Minnie and Aibileen and is written from their perspective.
Skeeter is from a wealthy, traditional, southern family and we meet her as a recent English graduate looking for her next adventure . Her mother strongly believes that Skeeter should be seeking out a husband instead of a career, which often causes tension in their relationship. However, Skeeter is head strong and feisty (I love this about her) and we often see her fight to get her opinion across in many situations throughout the book. Although, she may be confident in political subjects, we learn that she has very low self-esteem where her appearance is concerned. This gives Skeeter an edge to her persona− as we see that she has a flaw− this makes for a more realistic and likable character.
After becoming a witness to the unkind and demeaning way some of her wealthy, married friends address the black maids in their employment Skeeter becomes curious as to the impact this treatment has on the hired help. The subject of the treatment of black women employed in white southern homes is never broached which causes Skeeter to collect stories from the maids’ perspective in the form of written confessions. Many of these stories are shocking and upsetting for Skeeter to hear, after all many of them involve her own friends. However, she feels she can make a difference and dedicates her time to giving these woman a voice through her writing.
With help from Minnie and Aibileen (both black maids working for Skeeter’s friends) more maids start to come forward to tell of their own experiences working in white homes. Before long Skeeter has enough material for an entire book which is eventually published anonymously.
As word of the book spreads among the wealthy socialites of Jackson, assumptions are formed as to who the stories in the book relate to, which in turn causes feelings of outrage, betrayal and revenge among certain employers of the help.
My desire to read the book came after seeing the film version of The Help, which I thoroughly enjoyed and didn’t want to end. After that my curiosity peaked and I bought the book version via Kindle. Boy, did I not regret it! This book left me with a thirst for knowledge and a curiosity that most books fail to encourage. Having no prior knowledge of what life was like as a black maid in the 1960′s I drank up every morsel of information offered to me. The more I read the more shocked I became at the behaviour of the ‘white folks’. I felt empathy, embarrassment, shock, awe and disgust as my eyes swept the pages. With every page read the more compelling the story and before long I felt as though I knew each and every character personally. Certain characters conjured up hatred but also familiarity as I saw many qualities shown by some characters reflected in people in my own life (I’m convinced everybody knows a Hilly Holbrook!)
However, although some of the subject matter can be dark at times and some difficult topics are covered, I found myself laughing heartily at certain parts of the story. There was a great sense of community among the maids and even though they were often down trodden and treated unfairly the author managed to keep a sense of light-hearted comedy throughout. This cut a fantastic contrast against the false and fragile friendships’ of the wealthy characters, where one step out of line could cause you to lose favour with the rest of the elite.
Overall, I loved this book. My attempts at reading it at a snails pace, in order to savour every word, failed due to my overpowering thirst for more information and I devoured the story, page by page, at an alarming rate. It is a story that stays with you and encourages you to question your own treatment of others and makes you feel as though you have changed slightly after reading it.
I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for something a little different to regular chicklit romance on the market. This book has meaning, it has heart and it bleeds raw emotion whilst managing to inject a light-heartedness not often seen in this subject area. I will no doubt read this story again and again and not get tired of the tale or the lesson taught.