All you Southern novelists need to move over and make room for a bright new talent! Kathryn Stockett’s first novel, The Help: A Novel reveals a part of the American past many would like to forget-the racially charged and segregated small town Mississippi life of the 1960s.
When Skeeter graduates from college, she returns home with hopes of beginning a career in journalism. She moves back to her family’s shabby but genteel plantation where she grew up surrounded by family, friends, and the ‘help’, the African American house workers who made life so much easier. The help cooked, cleaned and generally waited on the whitefolk.
Skeeter lands a column about housekeeping at the local newspaper. Since she has no knowledge or skills in this area, she enlists the assistance of the black domestic Aibileen who works for one of Skeeter’s friend. With Aibileen’s expertise, Skeeter is able to crank out a popular weekly column filled with useful tips. Aibileen introduces her to another domestic, Minny, who has left a trail of jobs because of the outspoken comments she has made to her white employers.
The more time Skeeter spends with Aibileen and Minny, she comes to the slow realization that there are many injustices the black domestics and their families suffer on a daily basis. While this understanding is not shared by her family, friends and her politically connected fiance, Skeeter becomes determined to write a book about Aibileen and Minny’s experiences.
Skeeter persuades them to help write their story anonymously, knowing that the kinds of things they reveal may cause a rift in the fabric of their small town if the book is ever published. Stockett’s story unfolds through the varying voices of Skeeter, Aibileen, and Minny. Skeeter offers the perspective of a good but naive young woman who is clearly a product of her upbringing, Aibileen represents the more conservative black worker who just wants to keep her family fed and safe without making waves while Minny brings the younger attitude of the domestics who are ready and willing to fight for change and justice.
Stockett’s story is hard to put down as she brings a sad but hopeful plot alive with realistic characters and glimpses of life in the 1960s South. This engaging original book from a talented new voice should be popular with readers who enjoys books set in the South. Book clubs looking for a good read with various points to discuss should also pick it up. Enjoy!