I feel like I am one of the few book bloggers left not to have read this one. I have to be shallow and say that one reason I was reluctant to pick this book up was the cover - I think it looks so bland and uninviting! Now that I have read the book the cover - and its significance - resonates with me more.
The Help is broadly a story of the social and political times in Mississippi in the 1960's - but more specifically it is a story of the relationships of and between women and races in that time and place. Three women in particular are the narrators in The Help; Aibileen, an African American woman who has worked as a maid and nanny for white families since her adolescence, Skeeter, a young white society woman who has just returned home from college and Minny (my favourite character in many ways and for many reasons), a middle aged African American woman with a gift for cooking and sassy remarks and comebacks.
Skeeter is in a way the catalyst for the main storyline that takes place in the book. Skeeter wants to be a writer but in her home town of Jackson there aren't a whole lot of opportunities for her to practice her craft so she ends up taking a job writing a domestic and home help advice column for the local paper. As a privileged white woman of the time Skeeter does not have a lot of experience in this area which is why she connects with Aibileen - the maid of one her old school friends. It is Aibileen who gives Skeeter the input for her columns - and a tentative relationship begins between the two women which leads to another writing project - one that is much more important and more dangerous for all of the women involved.
I am blown away by how much this book - both the story and the issues it raised - have impacted on me - it was a powerful reading experience. The story was built beautifully - each character had the time and space devoted to them for them to be able to tell the reader their own story - it felt like a collaborative effort. The book had tension, humour, warmth and connection. The section at the end of the book where the author speaks about her own experiences of growing up in Mississippi, and how she reconciled writing in the voice of an African American woman, was a great way to end the story and added a level of authenticity. I don't know how this author will be able to follow up this effort but I am definitely looking forward to her trying!