Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Set in Jackson, Mississippi in 1962-1964 during the civil rights era, The Help details the lives of 3 women, 2 of whom are black domestics and 1 is a young white woman named Miss Skeeter (Skeeter is a nickname and women in the south are often referred to as Miss along with their first name even if they are married, I was Miss Kimi to the neighborhood children).
Skeeter is a writer trying to find her voice and, after some advice from an editor in NY, she decides to write a book from the perspective of the domestics in Jackson. She rather naively suggests this to Aibileen who works for one of her friends. Aibileen is shocked and scared at first but gradually realizes that it is something that should be done. She recruits her friend Minny who has had problems keeping a job because of her outspoken ways. Other maids are too afraid to participate until a young man is brutally beaten for mistakenly using the wrong restroom.
I absolutely loved this book! I loved getting the perspective of the people who were always in the background, as if they were invisible, and seeing their bravery in doing something about the discrimination in their own way. I loved seeing them learn to see each other as individuals, as real people, seeing those lines between them become blurred.
Some people might be put off a bit by the dialect but, believe me, it is spot on. I lived in Georgia and Alabama for 18 years and I could hear just how those women would sound.
There is profanity but not the worst kind and some references to sex and some domestic violence that is disturbing. There is also a scene with a naked drunk man that is not appropriate for younger teens. I would rate this book PG-16 because of that scene.
I think that this would be a good book for book clubs. Here are some discussion questions if you are interested:

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