The Help is the first novel by Kathryn Stockett. Set in the early sixties in Jackson, Mississippi, the story is narrated in three voices: two black maids ("help") and a young white woman. Aibileen Clark is a wise Negro woman who has raised 17 white children, and lost a son of her own. She works for Elizabeth and Raleigh Leefolt and derives great joy from their Baby Girl, Mae Mobley, although she is under no illusion that this will last. Minny Jackson is a sassy young Negro with a talent for cooking who has trouble keeping her opinions to herself, a trait that has seen her fired from a great many positions. Her latest job is for newcomers, Celia and Johnny Foote, whom she hopes won't hear of her reputation; Celia, though, is too busy keeping her own secrets. Eugenia (Skeeter) Phelan has just graduated from college, where her Mama hoped she would find a husband, but Skeeter wants to be a writer much more than a wife. She misses her beloved Negro maid, Constantine, who has disappeared and no one will tell her where. When Skeeter's writing ambition crystallises into a book about the experiences of black maids in white households, Aibileen and Minny decide to become involved despite the enormous risk.
This novel touches on many topics, including racial segregation and civil rights and the relationship between Negro employees and their white employers. The feel of the sixties is beautifully evoked with the inclusion of many icons like the Pill, Valium, space exploration, ring pull cans, the Vietnam war, the introduction of Zip codes and sex before marriage. The characters are multifaceted and the dialogue is pitch-perfect. There is humour and heartache, cruelty and kindness, romance and suspense. We learn that revenge is sweet, especially in the form of Minny's Chocolate Pie. The prose is, on occasions, luminous: "If chocolate was a sound, it would've been Constantine's voice singing." The ultimate lesson is that the lines between black and white, between quality and trash, between employer and employee are not as definite as they might at first seem. And, as Aibileen says" Kindness don't have no boundaries". One of the dangers of reading a novel with so much hype is the very real possibility that the reader's expectations will be too high, and disappointment follows; the exception is, of course, when the novel lives up to the hype, as this one assuredly does. I loved this wonderful, moving story.show more
by Marianne Vincent