Three ordinary women are about to take one extraordinary step.
Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.
Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.
Minny, Aibileen’s best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody’s business, but she can’t mind her tongue, so she’s lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.
Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.
In pitch-perfect voices, Kathryn Stockett creates three extraordinary women whose determination to start a movement of their own forever changes a town, and the way women – mothers, daughters, caregivers, friends – view one another. A deeply moving novel filled with poignancy, humor, and hope, The Help is a timeless and universal story about the lines we abide by, and the ones we don’t.
This has been the ‘it’ book to read in the past year and a half, it’ll become the ‘it’ book again as the film version of the novel releases later this year. And with most ‘it’ books, I found myself struggling to read it in one go. It took two tries, and three months for me to finish this, and it has to do with the fact that I kept comparing it to the great novel by Harper Lee (one of my all time favourites!), To Kill a Mockingbird, that deals with race, segregation, and the triumph of great men like Atticus Finch and Tom Robinson.
So, about this novel … the characters are interesting — check; the setting is vivid — check; the plot is intriguing (especially the close calls where Skeeter, Aibileen, and Minny are almost caught) — check. According to this, I should have found the novel fascinating and be raving about it, but I didn’t. I’m not quite certain what the reason is … maybe it’s Skeeter, Hilly, and Elizabeth (they annoyed me a lot), maybe it’s because I kept comparing it to TKM and thinking that this is an amateurish attempt at what Lee did so well so many years ago, maybe …
But whatever the reason, I did connect to this – Aibileen and Minny. It’s Aibileen and Minny’s stories that really touched me because it is they that struggle and fight for their lives and those they love on a daily basis. These are the same reasons I love Scout, Calpurnia, and Arthur (Boo) Radley from the other novel. And, I love that ultimately Stockett gives Aibileen and Minny a voice and a hope, which after all the turmoil is a relief (at one point I couldn’t deal with the fear, anger, and nervousness for the characters – which is what Stockett wants us to feel – to put us in their shoes).
So, finally, this is a good novel with a great message, good, fully developed characters, and the ability for the reader to lose themselves in Jackson, Mississippi, and in the lives of these extraordinary women. I hope the film does justice to the novel, and if you haven’t read this, yet, please do … but try not to make any connections to other novels until you finish reading the last line.