The Help by Katherine Stockett

I put off writing a book report on this book because so many people I know have read it, and those that haven’t are waiting in line to get hold of it.  I bought the book as a present for the beloved L when I was in Auckland at conference, which made her very happy, and low and behold when I got home from conference the bookclub book of the month was none other than The Help, so I had to beg the beloved L to loan – a little awkward!  Anyway she kindly allowed me to borrow her unread present within a couple of days of receiving it and I embarked into a journey into Southern Mississippi the year of my birth 1961 (so old!).

The help is set in a time not so very long ago when ordinary white American families employed a maid to do all the unpleasant jobs around the house, particularly the raising of their children, in order to free them up for the important business of shopping, playing cards with their friends and impressing the neighbours.  It is set in Jackson,  Mississippi and is told in the words of two of these maids mainly, but they speak for so many of these black women who cleaned, cared and catered.  It is a moving story, I became totally engrossed in the stories the maids told, collected by the unlucky in love and beginning journalist Skeeter Phelan, Skeeter who doesn’t fit into the social set she is born to, who is unreasonably tall and unfashionably willful and plain, but whose heartstrings are pulled by the stories of the maids.  She desperately wants to find out what happened to the maid who she loved, Constantine, who looked after her during her childhood and who has disappeared and about whom nobody will speak other than the sketchiest of details.  This quest sets her off on a journey to find out the truth, and in doing so she begins to collect the stories of the everyday lives of the maids who work for her friends.  In doing this we are all drawn into the stories of the lovely Abileen, and the feisty Minnie and the horrific stories they and other maids have to share.  The maids stories make it very difficult for her to be friends with her regular girlfriends who employ the maids and treat them so badly and her boyfriend, or even anybody from her regular social set.

There is much much more to the story but I would love you to head out and beg borrow or even steal a copy of the book and get reading it.  I’m off to see the movie on Tuesday night which is a little scary because perhaps it won’t live up to the book, but I am keen to get to it and soak up a little more of the Jackson, Mississippi atmosphere and to think about how far we have come since I was born.

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