It’s the early 1960s and 22-year-old Skeeter returns home after graduating from Ole Miss. She doesn’t have any prospects for a job, which makes her unhappy – and she doesn’t have any prospects for a husband, which makes her mother unhappy. In between Junior League meetings and visiting with her married friends, Skeeter wonders what to do with her life. She sends a letter to an editor in New York who tells her to write about something she knows – and Skeeter makes a bold decision to talk to the black maids in the community to tell their side of working for the white families.
Her first ally is Aibileen, the maid of one of her best friends. Aibileen’s son was recently killed in a mill accident. Something inside her died with him, and she’s less cautious than she used to be about giving her opinion. She loves the little girl she looks after, but she knows that there’s a limited amount of time before that little girl will look at her, see her dark skin, and believe the stories that white folks are better than black.
Aibileen’s best friend, Minny, is one of the best cooks in the county. But Minnie did something “Terrible Awful” and has been fired from her job. The only person she can get to hire her is the wife of Mister Johnny. But because of who she married, Miss Celia is outside the close-knit circle of Junior Leaguers despite all her attempts to be accepted.
The author uses Skeeter’s book about the black maids’ experiences as the vehicle to tell the stories of the women in Jackson, Mississippi on the cusp of the Civil Rights Movement. Some moments are laugh out loud funny, others gut-wrenchingly awful and sad – but what makes it linger is the feeling that any of these stories could be the stories of real people during a difficult time in our history.
Several bookgroups, including mine, have selected this book. It is good fodder for an interesting discussion on relationships between women and between races. My group was sorry to see it the book end, we wanted to continue to read about what was happening in the lives of these remarkable characters we came to care about.
Check the WRL catalog for The Help