The Help by Kathryn Stockett. 451 pages. Amy Einhorn Books/G.P. Putnam’s Sons. $24.95
Skyrocketing to 50 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller list and achieving 1.9 million copies in print, Kathryn Stockett has launched an explosive fiction debut unveiling a heartbreaking yet inspiring portrait of African-American women during the nascent 1960’s civil rights movement in Jackson, Mississippi.
Juxtaposing narratives of three women in the deep south with lyrical dialect that would make Zora Neale Hurston proud, Stockett paints an eye-opening character study capturing unbreakable spirits of African-American maids whose limitations are great, yet whose strength, wisdom, and courage are limitless.
Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan, a white girl from Mississippi, is home from college in 1962 proudly sporting a diploma. Her mother refers to her degree as a “pretty piece of paper” in an era where societal success for a woman is found through marriage and not a career. Rebelling against pressure to find a husband, Ms. Skeeter fulfills her burning ambition to become a writer. Witnessing inequities in her own hometown, she is inspired to risk everything to pursue a taboo quest of uncovering the truth behind the lives of black maids. Elitist white women of the Jackson country clubs depend upon their maids to run a household and raise their children. Yet, behind closed doors, their “invaluable” hired help are mistrusted, disrespected, and exploited. Fiesty Ms. Skeeter is outraged!
She joins forces with Minny, an outspoken, confident, unapologetic black maid who is often unemployed due to her shameless moments of “mouthing off” to her white employees and Aibileen, a regal, resilient black woman who raises over 17 white children with quiet grace and a dignified aura of wisdom. As different as these three characters may be, they unite in collecting the scathing and often shocking untold stories of black maids, and the humor, hope, and unwavering faith they emanate to survive.
Suffocating in the lines that define their town and their times 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, Ms. Skeeter’s writing project stirs an uprising in a sleepy southern town about to be transformed with a movement to change the way women – of both races – view one another.
Although set in a turbulent time in history, Stockett’s compulsively readable novel instills hope and inspiration. Stirring up riveting discussions on issues of race, discrimination, and the dynamics between white and black women of the south, The Help is sure to remain as a bookseller and as a book club hot title for quite a long time.
~ Victoria Andrew, The Book Goddess