I have just finished reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett: What a great book! From the first page I couldn't put it down, and it has been the first book in a very long time to do that to me. I actually miss the characters I have left behind.
The Help tells the story of the relationships between white and black people in segregated 60's Mississippi. Chapters are told through the view points of 3 main characters: Aibileen and Minny (both black house-maids) and Skeeter (a white woman of 'high society' who longs to be a writer). All 3 find themselves in an unlikely friendship in the fight for civil rights and equality.
What I loved most about this book was the characters. Each one was totally believable and each had their own struggles seperate to the main theme of equality. Minny is the tough, smart-mouthed maid who cooks well enough to rival the best chef - yet she struggles at home with 4 kids, another on the way, and an abusive husband. Aibileen is gifted with children, she teaches them to believe in themselves and gives them the love their white mothers wont show - yet she has recently lost her own and only child. Skeeter is part of a 'sorority set' of friends, and though she has spent most of her life growing up with them, she finds her views are not always in line with their beliefs - especially when her most influential friend is launching a campaign for segregated bathrooms in the home. Meanwhile Skeeter is coping with a mother dying of cancer, an inability to attract a husband and encouraging maids everywhere to share their stories (good and bad) of being a housemaid - even though this puts everyone in danger.
As events of the novel unfold, they are at times shocking but often endearing. There is violence, but there is also love. Fear, but also understanding. I really liked the mix of relationships in the book. Very often we think of this period in very clear cut terms: it was wrong. People suffered. And that is true. But thats not to say there werent some households where the maid, though still a maid, was a part of the family. They were the very thing that held people together. They were the heart of a household. I liked being presented with both sides of the coin. And I am very thankful that things these days are different.
I would whole heartedly recommend this book to anyone even slightly considering it. Sometimes I am put off by the hype that surrounds a book, thinking high hopes can only lead to disappointment. The Help, however is wholly deserving of the praise.