My rating: (5 / 5)
Not only one of the best books I’ve read this year, The Help is one of the best books I have ever read.
I was completely enthralled by the exquisitely detailed world of 1960s Jackson Mississippi that the author wove from details of battenburg lace, extra-strength hairspray and pastel ladies suits. I wanted to be Skeeter and Minnie’s best friend… yes, both of them. My heart ached when they struggled, and leapt with joy when they triumphed, because I felt an honest emotional connection with these people and their world. It is rare for me to be as caught up in a book as I was with this book, but I can’t deny it; I’m in love with The Help!
The Help follows the story of societal black sheep Skeeter, who went to college to learn rather than to earn her Mrs. degree like her friends. She returns to her home town of Jackson Mississippi and finds that she no longer fits into the mold that was cut out for her, to be a demure southern belle who accepts the status quo. Instead, she is uncomfortable with the social strata, with the expectations that are laid out for white ladies of her age, and with the way her friends treat their children, husbands, one another, and most significantly, the household help.
Setting out on a combined quest to tell the story of black household workers and to find the maid that raised her with such compassion, Skeeter finds herself caught up in the changing world of Civil Rights, with a richly painted historical backdrop of events including the Medger Evers assassination, the walk on the moon, Kennedy’s presidency and assassination, Rosa Parks, lunch counter sit-ins, and the speeches and work of Martin Luther King Jr. She befriends Abileen, her friend’s maid, who begins by assisting her in her writing of a housekeeping column, and winds up becoming a true friend, during an era when such relationships are more than verboten.
This phenomenal novel explores the ways in which women relate, from mothers and daughters, to childhood friends, to our ways of dealing with those who work in service. I see echoes of the way Miss Hillie dealt with Abileen in the way I see people speak to waitstaff and hotel staff today, and it hurts my heart to think we haven’t quite outgrown all of our prejudices. Test yourself as you read; have you ever used this kind of dismissive tone, or that way of ignoring someone? Even if it is less harsh than the realities of the 60s, it’s worth reminding ourselves that we need to constantly reexamine what we were taught as children and whether or not it affects the way we treat people today.
Read this book. Read it immediately. Then read it again.