In 1962 in Jackson, Mississippi, Skeeter, a young white aspiring journalist, comes home from Ole Miss and decides to document the struggles of African-American maids. The clandestine project becomes a catalyst for change and impacts the lives of many women, black and white. Not only Jim Crow laws and racial bias, but class prejudice and gender roles are exposed in all their ugliness.
The story is told in three first-person voices, that of Skeeter and of two of the maids she interviews, Minny and Aibileen. Talking honestly to Skeeter about their struggles is an act of courage on the part of Minny, Aibileen, and the other women they recruit for the project. Skeeter herself must re-examine the relationship she had with the maid who helped to raise her, and look at her own position in society. As Skeeter grows into an independent woman and a brave journalist, it becomes increasingly clear to her that the lines that divide people are artificial. Minny and Aibileen, who risk far more than Skeeter does, find deep inner resources and evolve as people. The characters’ internal struggles and the external danger from white supremacists charge this novel with enormous dramatic tension and make it practically impossible to put down.
The Help abounds in vividly drawn female characters. Skeeter, Minny, and Aibileen’s voices ring true. The maids’ employers emerge as fully believable people. Some are petty tyrants, but Stockett draws a touching, humorous portrait of Miss Celia, Minny’s boss, decent at the core but adrift from her poor, country roots and floundering. This brilliantly written novel has wonderful comic moments as well as heartbreak. I’d put it on the top of my bookshelf, next to To Kill A Mockingbird. It is that extraordinary.