The Help, by Kathryn Stockett

Oh, dearie me as they say here in the UK, was this a hard book to read.  Difficult and challenging, it made me simultaneously embarrassed and proud to be Southern.  Let me try to convince you that this HAS to be your next book, if you haven’t already read it.

PS- Please know that when I say colored, it’s because that is the term used in the book, but I’m shuddering at the wrong-ness of it even now.

The story is set in early 1960s Mississippi, and centers around the lives of three women who become unlikely friends.  Skeeter is a white woman from a middle class family who was raised by her treasured colored maid, Constantine.  Aibileen is a colored maid who has raised seventeen white children and uses each one of them to fill the hole left by the death of her own child.  Minnie is a colored maid who is full of fire and anger and boundless compassion and loyalty.  They are brought together when Skeeter decides to write a book describing the lives of colored maids in the 1960s South.  The women come, one by one, and tell her their stories, from how to get a colicky baby to sleep to how to avoid being accused of stealing the silver.  Each of the three women tell a part of the story from their own perspectives, and the chapters are written in their voices.

That’s where it got very real for me.  I have known women in the South as I was growing up whose voices I heard resonating through the characters, black and white.  This isn’t Mammy at Tara.  These are educated women on both sides of the color line, reduced to play the parts society has dictated for fear of jail time or worse if they stray.  This is a powerful book, about friendship, trust, loyalty, and equality, and deserves a place on everyone’s bookshelf.

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