Skeeter Phelan is a young, white woman who’s graduated from Ole Miss in the early 1960’s. Directionless and bored living at home with her parents in Jackson, Mississippi she has plenty of time to observe and reflect on the southern tradition of white families employing black maids to run their households and raise their children. When an opportunity to write a book for Harper & Row arises Skeeter decides to enlist several black maids in Jackson to tell their stories of what it’s like to work for white families. Aibileen, the maid of Skeeter’s friend Elizabeth, agrees to help. Despite being fearful of losing their jobs and even their lives, many other maids, including Aibileen’s feisty best friend Minny, come to Skeeter with their stories and their book, despite several set-backs, is eventually written.
The Help is told from the multiple viewpoints of Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny. Because of this we get both sides of the story – what it was like to be white and privileged in Jackson, and what it was like to be black and invisible. This novel is very much character-centered and Stockett does an amazing job of creating realistic and sympathetic characters. Her use of historical details helps draw the reader into this world and her measured pacing keeps you hooked until the very last page. Though tragic at times, the novel’s message is essentially hopeful. I really enjoyed this book and was engrossed in it for several days. A lovely read.