Kathryn Stockett's The Help investigates the lives of white and black women in 1960s Mississippi. The world around the white elites in Jackson, Miss. is changing. The Vietnam War is raging, MLK, Jr. is marching his people towards civil rights, but for Skeeter, Aibileen, Minny and the other women in this tightly monitored and stratified society, things are stiflingly the same. Every morning, as they've done for decades, black maids walk across the Woodrow Wilson bridge to wait on white families - to clean clothes, tidy the house, and raise the children. It seems copacetic, but the mechanisms of this small world are changing, too.
Skeeter - tall, awkward, and with no husband in sight - begins to notice the hate and revulsion her white friends have for their black maids, the same types of women who raised them. She begins to think that perhaps there is another story, one that isn't being told.
Aibileen has been a maid all her life. She's dedicated her life to white families, but when her son Treelore dies from a tragic accident, she becomes dissatisfied and unable to maintain the sense of calm that has carried her throughout her career. She listens every day to her white mistress's hatred of blacks, but when her white charge, sweet Mae Mobley, begins to spout racist language, she realizes this poison runs deep.
Minny has always had trouble keeping a job. Her mother's advice - to keep her mouth shout when it came "to the white folks business" - fell on deaf ears. After a feud with her employer's daughter, Hilly, she may never work again. Hilly, a hateful racist, is spreading lies about Minny around town. When Minny finally gets a job with Celia Foote, a woman the other ladies think is white trash, Minny realizes there are all kinds of injustice in the world.
These three women will unite to effect change in the drawing rooms of segregated Mississippi.
Stockett's deft prose, exciting plot, and memorable characters create a fabulous reading experience. Her dialect is incredible and one wonders if they aren't listening to Aibileen or Minny in their own words rather than an author's rendering. It is a stunning achievement, and I hope she's working on book number 2!