Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A Time to Revolt

Being 51 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller List, and lately in the number 1 spot, is in itself a strong recommendation. The book with this recommendation, “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett, is a very good read and a book that is difficult to put down.

The story takes place in Jackson Mississippi in 1962 (not that long ago!). Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan has just graduated from Ole Miss with a degree in English. But to the consternation of her mother, Skeeter has no engagement ring or even a boyfriend. Skeeter has other ideas for her future. She wants to be a writer and she answers an ad for an editing job at the “The Ladies Home Journal“. The senior editor writes back to tell Skeeter she needs some experience, and if she wants to write, “Write about what disturbs you, particularly if it bothers no one else”.

What Skeeter wants to write about is, what it is like to work as a black maid in Jackson, Mississippi in 1962. The story that follows is a page turning, gripping novel about the racial divide in this country. Skeeter’s friends, her bridge partners, and fellow members of the Junior League are all young married women. They employ black women to clean their houses, cook their meals and raise their children. But they are racists who won’t allow their maids to use the toilets in their houses.

One by one, Skeeter gets 10 black women to agree to tell their story. The heart and soul of “The Help” are two black maids, Aibileen who has raised 17 white babies and lost her own son, and her best friend Minny, who loses job after job because she talks back when she is insulted. Their stories are heartbreaking as they share the narration with Skeeter.

Kathryn Stockett has written a moving story using the black vernacular of the 1960’s, the cultural mores of the south and fleeting glimpses of the historical politics of the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War. This is a story of strong, brave women pitted against vain, racist, mean women. Discovering whether these women can secretly write and publish a book telling their sad, brave, outrageous stories and live to enjoy it, is well worth the effort and the reason this book has been on the best seller list for 51 weeks!

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