I should first preface my book review by letting you know that I read a lot, truly, A LOT. Since I tend to go through books so quickly, I almost never actually purchase books. I get 99% of what I read through the library, the other 1 % is borrowing from friends or the very rare occasion when I decide to actually buy a book. And when I buy a book , it is because I plan on reading it again (many, many times) and I plan on telling all my friends how amazing I thought it was and how they HAVE to read it, “You can even borrow my copy”! So I will start this book review by letting you know that I ran out and bought this book and then I handed it off to Jenny the second I finished it and said, “You HAVE to read this!” Then I told my book club that they HAD to read it and I told all my Facebook friends that they HAD to read it and so on….
The Help is a fictional story set in Jackson, Mississippi in 1962 and speaks from the viewpoint of three “ordinary” women, 2 black maids and one young white woman, newly graduated from college. The maids, Aibileen and Minny have been working for white families and raising the children in these white families for as long as they can remember, watching their mothers and grandmothers do the jobs that they are now doing themselves. The young white woman, Skeeter, dreams of becoming a writer and is forced to look at her life when she is instructed to “write about something that disturbs you, particularly if it bothers no one else”.
She discovers that she is particularly bothered by the way her friends, her family and those she has grown up with in Jackson treat the women who are working daily to clean their homes, prepare their meals, raise their children, and keep their secrets, the women who are often known as “the help.” Skeeter, decides to write (in secret) a tell all story about what it’s really like to work as a black maid in the homes of white women in Jackson. In order to write her story, she needs to find maids who are willing to tell their stories, to share their secrets and take an enormous risk in doing so.
Through these stories, and this book, we get to know Aibileen, the quiet, kind and strong maid to Skeeter’s good friend Elizabeth and Minny, the sassy, smart-mouthed maid who is having a hard time finding a job due to her inability to tame her tongue. And we get to know Skeeter and her friends, not only through Skeeter’s eyes but also through the stories the maids tell about these women. Women, like Hilly Holbrook, Skeeter’s long time friend, who is trying to start an initiative that encourages the white families to build separate outdoor bathrooms for the colored help. And women like Cecilia Foote, considered to be “white trash” by Hilly and her society friends. Life in Jackson, Mississippi is just on the brink of change, on the cusp of civil rights and everyone is being affected by this in some way, whether they like it or not.
I simply could not put this book down, I was so caught up in the lives of these women. I felt like I was living their stories with them, I could hear the southern drawl pouring out onto the pages as their stories unfolded so vividly before me. I was touched by this book, by the story of the unlikely friendship that builds between these women who are risking so much just to tell their stories. And oh, the stories they tell!! Not only about the hard and sometimes crazy things they experience as the help but also the tenderness and love that can exist between these maids and their employers and their children. I wept (okay, ugly cried) at certain parts of this story, especially when you read about the heartache involved in loving and raising these babies to only have to someday walk away or be treated like you are nothing more than a maid. I can not recommend this book enough!! I didn’t want to give away too much of the story, I want you to go out and get your own copy because friends, you HAVE to read this book!