2009, 451 pages
The Help narrates from the point of view of three women living in 1960s Jackson, Mississippi: Skeeter, a white woman and aspiring writer, and Aibileen and Minny, two black maids. After getting advice from a New York publisher to "Write about what disturbs you, even if it bothers no one else," and hearing from Aibileen that her dead son had wanted to write a book about what it's like to be a black man in Mississippi, Skeeter decides to interview black maids working for white women in Jackson.
I'll admit, I picked up this book more because I felt that I should read it than because I wanted to, but I'm glad I did. It wasn't the fastest or most engrossing book I've read, but I did enjoy the characters and the plot moved quickly enough that I was never disinterested. I really liked that it was told from three different perspectives, because I found myself enjoying reading each of their stories. Stockett did a good job of establishing what it was like for both white and black women in 1960s Mississippi, as well as establishing her narrators and each of their distinct voices. I definitely enjoyed the chapters narrated by Minny the most, but Skeeter and Aibileen were interesting to read about as well.
I was moved by the fact that Aibileen, Minny, and the other black maids were willing to face the danger inherent in talking about their experiences. I at first questioned Skeeter's sincerity, because at the beginning of the book it seemed like she was undertaking the project and putting these women in danger out of a desire to advance her career moreso than to help them, but as the project continues her character evolves as she too faces the consequences of her work. Here's an example:
I read through four of the twenty-five pages, mesmerized by how many laws exist to separate us. Negroes and whites are not allowed to share water fountains, movie houses, public restrooms, ballparks, phone booths, circus shows. Negroes cannot use the same pharmacy or buy postage stamps at the same window as me. I think about Constantine, the time my family took her to Memphis with us and the highway had mostly washed out, but we had to drive straight on through because we knew the hotels wouldn't let her in. I think about how no one in the car would come out and say it. We all know about these laws, we live here, but we don't talk about them. This is the first time I've ever encountered them written down. (p173)In the end, this book was definitely a worthwhile read and provides an interesting perspective on the civil rights movement. I'm glad I picked it up and definitely highly recommend it. Here's one last quote to leave you with:
Loud voices shout in the street and both our eyes dart toward the window. We are quiet, stock-still. What would happen if someone white found out I was here on a Saturday night talking to Aibileen in her regular clothes? Would they call the police, to report a suspicious meeting? I'm suddenly sure they would. We'd be arrested because that is what they do. They'd charge us with integration violation--I read about it in the paper all time--they despise the whites that meet with the coloreds to help with the civil rights movement. This has nothing to do with integration, but why else would we be meeting?" (P145)