Kathryn Stockett’s debut novel, The Help, was carefully chosen to launch the new Penguin Group imprint, Amy Einhorn Books. This beautifully crafted example of historical fiction is based in the deep south, specifically Jackson, Mississippi, during the height of the civil rights movement. Though the main impetus of the book is not the recounting of specific civil rights demonstrations that took place during this time period, the reader can not help but become personally immersed in what life was like for southern women, both black and white, during this snapshot in time. The story is told with compassion and detail that is moving yet not overly sentimental. It is at times tragic and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, yet always holds a note of underlying hope that shines through to the end.
The story is intermittently narrated by three different main characters — Skeeter, Abileen, and Minny — each daring, strong, and independent in her own way. Skeeter was raised as a white woman of social standing on a cotton plantation, yet longs for more from life than her small community can provide. Abileen is a black maid who has devoted her life to raising white children in other people’s homes, though her only son was left to die under circumstances that may have possibly been prevented. Minny is Abileen’s audacious and outspoken best friend who is faced with some difficult choices of her own. These three women bravely join together to record the stories of black house keepers and their relationships with their white employers. It encompasses examples of the tension, prejudice, friendship, and respect that affected these complicated daily interactions.
Skeeter: My childhood bedroom is the top floor of my parents’ house. …The stairs are narrow and difficult for parents to climb. Our previous maid, Constantine, used to stare those forward-sloping stairs down every day, like it was a battle between them. That was the only part I didn’t like about having the top floor of the house, that it separated me from my Constantine.
Abileen: By the time she a year old, Mae Mobley following me around everwhere I go. Five o’clock would come round and she’d be hanging on my Dr. Scholl shoe, dragging over the floor, crying like I weren’t never coming back. Miss Leefolt, she’d narrow up her eyes at me like I done something wrong, unhitch that crying baby off my foot. I reckon that’s the risk you run, letting somebody else raise you chilluns.
Minny: I saw the way my mama acted when Miss Woodra brought her home, all Yes Ma’aming, No Ma’aming, I sure do thank you Ma’aming. Why I got to be like that? I know how to stand up to people.
This was one of the most uplifting and well written books I’ve read in months. If you are looking for a book club choice to transition from February’s Black History Month into March’s Women’s History Month, The Help would serve as the ideal selection.