The Help is a moving, inspiring, beautifully written novel about three very different women and the quiet--even furtive, but ultimately effective work that they do to help the blossoming Civil Rights movement. It is set in Jackson, Mississippi in the early sixties, and consists of three alternating, first person narratives.
Aibileen is a black woman in her fifties who, like most of her peers in the book, has spent her entire adult life working as a domestic for white families in Jackson. She has raised 17 white babies, most of whom had to be taught not to call her "mama." Aibileen's life has been quiet, the only drama happening two years before the novel begins, when her son was seriously injured in an industrial accident and died after being dumped outside the colored hospital by his white bosses.
Minnie, in her thirties and also a domestic, has had a more checkered career than her friend. She's an excellent housekeeper and cook, but just doesn't know how curb her tongue. Minnie's been fired from 19 jobs, all for her sassy attitude.
Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan is a white woman, the only unmarried one in her group of former sorority sisters who are now bridge-playing Junior Leaguers. Tall and ungainly and still living at home, she's socially awkward but she does know for sure that there's more to life than bridge games and Junior League meetings. In her quest to make something of her life Skeeter happens upon a project which will change the lives of all of the women in the book: an oral history--completely anonymous--of relations between white families and the black domestics who are simultaneously part of and separate from them.
Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help has done an admirable job of capturing the voices of these different women, and of conveying the conflicting feelings they feel every day of their lives. The Help is a natural for book groups; its publication so soon after our first African American president has taken office reinforces how far we've come as a country, but should, one hopes, remind us not to become complacent.