As promised, here is my full review of The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Loved this book!
Sneaky Kathryn Stockett: You made the chapters and the segments within the chapters just short enough that I'd read one and think, "Well, just one more won't hurt," and before I knew it, I was up an hour past my bedtime just so I could read "one more..." But seriously, I'm not complaining; when a book is this good, you are so wrapped up in the story that putting it down is a chore no matter what the time of day.
The Help is the story of the "colored" domestic help many southerners employed throughout the first 60+ years of the twentieth century, when everyone knew his or her place in the world, and made sure that everyone else remembered their own places as well. As Ms. Stockett points out, much of the help was indeed thought of as extended family, often raising the white children of the home and staying with one family for most of a lifetime. Still, even though the maids were an intricate, intimate part of a household, they knew where the invisible lines were drawn and they knew their very lives sometimes depended upon the whims of the people for whom they worked. Civil rights was only a glimmer of a thought in the early 1960s in Jackson, Mississippi, and Ms. Stockett captures the hope of the black people wanting to change their circumstances and the hysteria of the white people wanting things to continue in their segregated way forever. Out of this tug of war comes the idea for Skeeter Phelan, the main white character in the book: She will interview many of the black maids she knows and will write a book of their experiences, bringing to light the struggles the women face and the inequities of their situations.
The Help is told from three very distinct points of view. First there is Aibileen, a maid to one of the leading young socialites of Jackson. Aibileen has raised seventeen white children in her years as a maid, and she has seen enough heartache and discrimination that she agrees, at first unwillingly, to help Skeeter secretly with the book. Then there is Skeeter herself: fresh out of college but unsure what to do with her life, eager to write but afraid of failing her mother, hoping for love but uneasy with what's going on around her. Finally there is the invincible Minny, a maid who simply cannot keep her mouth shut and who finds herself tending to a social outcast while fending off her own demons at home. Once these three women unite, The Help becomes not just about oppression in the south, but also about tentative friendship and what you are willing to stand up for.
Ms. Stockett's got a gift for a turn of phrase, and The Help is delightfully filled with passages that I found myself reading and rereading for the sheer joy of seeing those words again on the pages. Complex and compelling, I found myself cheering these women on yet knowing they were all going to lose something for their courage in sharing their stories, even if they attempt to do so anonymously. Ms. Stockett writes each character distinctly and strongly, and she made me understand that when you peel back the layers, the complications are deeper and more likely to leave permanent scars. The voices of these characters are going to speak to me for a very long time to come; I can't recommend this one highly enough.