I just finished The Help by Kathryn Stockett. When I put my name on the reserve list at the library back in December, I was #95. It took 3 months, but I was finally able to pick up the book on March 5.
The Help is a novel about early 1960s Jackson, Mississippi. The story is told through the eyes of three women, Aibilene, Minny and Skeeter. Aibilene and Minny are black and work as maids for white families in town. Skeeter is a white woman who was raised by a black maid. None of these women is happy with their lot in life, but given the time and the place, they’re all aware that there’s not much they can do to change things. In the background, we hear of the murder of Medgar Evers and the rise of Martin Luther King and we, the readers, know that things will start to change.
Due to a variety of circumstances, Skeeter (who wants to be a writer) decides to tell the stories of these black women who spend their lives raising white babies. Everything has to be done in secret and they all know how much of a risk they’re taking. I thought Stockett did a good job of getting inside the heads of all three characters, and I was scared for them.
I liked the book very much, but there were, unfortunately, a lot of stereotypes and caricatures. For the most part, the rich white women were evil and the poor black women were noble. There is the requisite white trash woman trying to better herself, and the rich white women won’t let her do it. The Junior League takes a lot of abuse also (in the interest of full disclosure, I was an active member of the New York League for almost 20 years), and not all of it is warranted. The League does a lot of good in this world. This “all rich people are awful and all poor people are wonderful,” “no-gray-area” mindset could have made me put the book down if it hadn’t been so compelling. I really cared about these characters. I really wanted to know if their book would get published and, if so, what the town’s reaction would be.
Apparently, not everyone in the real Jackson is happy about the book, and the woman who works for Ms. Stockett’s brother and sister-in-law is suing her. The way I look at it, Ms. Stockett should be pleased — it means her book is resonating with the public.