Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Thirty: The Help - Kathryn Stockett

June Book Club Selection

Skeeter returns from college at Ole Miss to find her family maid, Constantine, has left and no one will tell her why.  She wants to be a writer and not be managed by her Mother.  Skeeter is able to convince the editor of the local newspaper to hire her to write the local housekeeping advice column.  The ironic part of the assignment is that Skeeter has never done any housework in her life. She ends up enlisting Aibileen, the black maid employed by her friend Elizabeth, to help her write the columns.

Aibileen has been a maid for all her life and currently is helping with her seventeenth white child - Mae Mobley.  She mourns her own son who died tragically recently.  She realizes that Skeeter is different from other white women and they begin to start a friendship.  Skeeter comes to her about the idea she had for a book- telling about life in the south from the perspective of the help.  Slowly, Aibileen tells her story to Skeeter and together they capture life as it is.  The publisher in New York City tells Skeeter that she needs not just one maid's story but 12 maid's stories.

Skeeter and Aibileen start to feel out other maids to see if they are willing to share their stories.  Aibileen's best friend Minnie is the hardest customer to convince.  Minnie is very outspoken and has been fired from many jobs.  She ends up being the maid for the local outcast - Celia.  Celia is different from the past employers that Minnie has had - she doesn't work, she talks to Minnie and wants to be her friend.

As Skeeter, Aibileen and Minnie continue to gather stories for the book, life in Southern Mississippi continues.  Skeeter finds it harder and harder to attend Junior League meetings.  She ends up losing friendships with her good friends Hilly and Elizabeth.  She dates the local senator's son Stuart but in the end breaks his heart.  Minnie becomes pregnant in order to stop her husband from beating her.  She begins to train her oldest daughter on how to be a maid.  Aibileen is witness to the civil unrest in the south one night riding the bus home.

Each chapter is told from a different perspective - Skeeter, Aibileen or Minnie - except for the chapter that describes the Junior League's annual banquet.  Kathryn does write in the local Southern dialect so getting used to reading and "hearing" that voice in your head.  I cannot recommend this book enough.  Our discussion at book club was really intense and exploratory of the topics that were in the book. 

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