Aibileen is a black maid in 1962 Jackson, Mississippi, who’s always taken orders quietly, but lately she’s unable to hold her bitterness back. Her friend Minny has never held her tongue but now must somehow keep secrets about her employer that leave her speechless. White socialite Skeeter just graduated college. She’s full of ambition, but without a husband, she’s considered a failure. Together, these seemingly different women join together to write a tell-all book about work as a black maid in the South, that could forever alter their destinies and the life of a small town…
The Help is a 2009 novel by American author Kathryn Stockett. The story is about black maids working in white households in Jackson, Mississippi, during the early 1960s.
A USA Today article called it one of the “summer sleeper hits.”An early review in The New York Times notes Stockett’s “affection and intimacy buried beneath even the most seemingly impersonal household connections” and says the book is a “button-pushing, soon to be wildly popular novel.”The Atlanta Journal-Constitution said of the book: “This heartbreaking story is a stunning début from a gifted talent.”
The novel is Stockett’s first. It took her five years to complete and was rejected by 60 literary agents before agent Susan Ramer agreed to represent Stockett.The Help has since been published in 35 countries and three languages.As of August 2011, it had sold seven million copies in print and audiobook editions, and spent more than 100 weeks on The New York Times Best Seller list.
The Help’s audiobook version is narrated by Jenna Lamia, Bahni Turpin, Octavia Spencer, and Cassandra Campbell. Spencer was Stockett’s original inspiration for the character of Minny, and also plays her in the film adaptation.
The Help is set in the early 1960s in Jackson, Mississippi, and told primarily from the first-person perspectives of three women: Aibileen Clark, Minny Jackson, and Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan. Aibileen is a maid who takes care of children and cleans. Her first job since her own 24-year-old son, Treelore, died from an accident on his job, is tending the Leefolt household and caring for their toddler, Mae Mobley. Minny is Aibileen’s friend who frequently tells her employers what she thinks of them, resulting in her having been fired from nineteen jobs. Minny’s most recent employer was Mrs. Walters, mother of Hilly Holbrook.
Skeeter is the daughter of a white family who owns a cotton farm outside Jackson. Many of the field hands and household help are African Americans. Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from the University of Mississippi and wants to become a writer. Skeeter’s mother wants her to get married, and thinks her degree is just a pretty piece of paper.Skeeter is curious about the disappearance of Constantine, her maid who brought her up and cared for her. Constantine had written to Skeeter while she was away from home in college saying what a great surprise she had awaiting her when she came home.Skeeter’s mother tells her that Constantine quit and went to live with relatives in Chicago. Skeeter does not believe that Constantine would leave her like this; she knows something is wrong and believes that information will eventually come out. Everyone Skeeter asks about the unexpected disappearance of Constantine pretends it never happened and avoids giving her any real answers.
The life Constantine led while being the help to the Phelan family leads Skeeter to the realization that her friends’ maids are treated very differently from the way the white employees are treated. She decides (with the assistance of a publisher) that she wants to reveal the truth about being a colored maid in Mississippi. Skeeter struggles to communicate with the maids and gain their trust. The dangers of writing a book about African Americans speaking out in the South during the early 1960s hover constantly over the three women.
Eventually Skeeter wins Aibileen’s trust through a friendship which develops while Aibileen helps Skeeter write a household tips column for the local newspaper. Skeeter accepted the job to write the column as a stepping stone to becoming a writer/editor, as was suggested by Elaine Stein, editor at Harper & Row, even though she knows nothing about cleaning or taking care of a household, since that is the exclusive domain of ‘the help.’ The irony of this is not lost on Skeeter, and she eventually offers to pay Aibileen for the time and expertise she received from her.
Elaine Stein had also suggested to Skeeter that she find a subject to write about which she can be dedicated to and passionate about.Skeeter realizes that she wants to expose to the world in the form of a book the deplorable conditions the maids in the South endure in order to barely survive.Unfortunately such an exposé is a dangerous proposition, not just for Skeeter, but for any maids who agree to help her. Aibileen finally agrees to tell her story.Minny, despite her distrust of whites, eventually agrees as well, but she and Aibileen are unable to convince others to tell their stories. Skeeter researches several laws governing what blacks still can and cannot do in Mississippi, and her growing opposition to the racial order results in her being shunned by her social circle.
Yule May, Hilly’s maid, is arrested for stealing one of Hilly’s rings to pay her twin sons’ college tuition after Hilly refused to lend the money. The other maids decide that they are willing to take a chance with their jobs, and their safety, and join the book project.
Thus the thrust of the book is the collaborative project between the white, privileged Skeeter and the struggling, exploited “colored” help, who together are writing a book of true stories about their experiences as the ‘help’ to the white women of Jackson.Not all the stories are negative, and some describe beautiful and generous, loving and kind events; while others are cruel and even brutal. The book, entitled “Help” is finally published, and the final chapters of “The Help” describe the aftermath of the books’ appearance in Jackson.
Starred Review. What perfect timing for this optimistic, uplifting debut novel (and maiden publication of Amy Einhorn’s new imprint) set during the nascent civil rights movement in Jackson, Miss., where black women were trusted to raise white children but not to polish the household silver. Eugenia Skeeter Phelan is just home from college in 1962, and, anxious to become a writer, is advised to hone her chops by writing about what disturbs you. The budding social activist begins to collect the stories of the black women on whom the country club sets relies and mistrusts enlisting the help of Aibileen, a maid who’s raised 17 children, and Aibileen’s best friend Minny, who’s found herself unemployed more than a few times after mouthing off to her white employers. The book Skeeter puts together based on their stories is scathing and shocking, bringing pride and hope to the black community, while giving Skeeter the courage to break down her personal boundaries and pursue her dreams. Assured and layered, full of heart and history, this one has bestseller written all over it.
People could argue for hours about what makes a novel “good” or “bad.” I am partial to novels that build rich, complex, deep, believable characters. “The Help,” by Kathryn Stockett, accomplished this quite aptly. I thought to myself, towards the beginning of the book, that the characters described were simply too real not to be real. I just knew that the author was writing about people she really knows. As I read/listened, I found myself comparing some of the southern women I know with some of the characters in this book.My friend Rebecca’s (name changed to protect me from getting a shoe thrown at me) relationship with her mother very closely mirrors Skeeter’s relationship with her mother. And her hair…. well I know a southern girl with hair just like Skeeter’s. I know girls who are very much involved with small town social institutions like “The Junior League.” I could go on… but my point is that the authenticity of these characters allowed me to identify them and see, in them, people I know.I’ll genuinely miss the characters from this book. I kind of hope the author writes a sequel someday.
I read a little of this novel but, for the most part, I listened to the audiobook version. It’s worth every penny to pay for the narration. They went all out in producing this audiobook. Usually, you only get one narrator in an audiobook. But this book had four narrators. So there were a plethora of voices to help distinguish between the characters so that the reader/listener knows who is speaking.
And the book was FUNNY. It’s not a comedy… it’s a drama. But I love funny books and the author threw in just the perfect amount of laughs in this piece. Come to think of it, though, if chocolate pie is your favorite pie, maybe you’d better not read this book…. I may never eat chocolate pie again. But it was worth it to have read/listened to this book.