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REVIEW: 'The Help' is a great historical-fiction read

Good reads

Published: Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Updated: Wednesday, October 2, 2013 23:10


It’s 1962 in Jackson, Mississippi. Two black maids and one white woman — what harm can they do?

 

They can give society a slap in the face.

 

“The Help” by Kathryn Stockett, published in 2009, tells the story of one courageous and kind maid, Aibileen Clark, who works for Mr. and Miss Leefolt. She does the cooking, cleaning, shopping and raising of their daughter, Mae Mobley. While Miss Leefolt fusses over bridge club and making her homemade dresses appear as if they’re not homemade, Aibileen tells Mae — often referred to as “Baby Girl” —  every morning: “You is smart, you is kind, you is important.” This turns out to be an important message in a time when if you weren’t doing what Miss Hilly Holbrook wanted, you were shunned from the community.

If you weren’t important to Miss Hilly, you weren’t important to anyone.

 

And that is exactly what happened to Minny Jackson. Minny used to work for Miss Hilly, but when Minny had to use the bathroom and was unable to make it to her own in the backyard due to a terrible rain storm, she was fired immediately for using one of the indoor toilets. Minny has five children and an abusive, drunk husband. Losing that job led to a beating. Minny has to get a job, but she can’t. Hilly’s spreading lies so no white woman in Jackson County will hire poor Minny, who isn’t one to let go.

The only hope for a job for Minny Jackson is the one woman Hilly hasn’t touched with her lies — Miss Celia Foote.

 

Miss Celia Rae Foote is the wife of Johnny Foote. Johnny was Hilly’s boyfriend before Celia got pregnant and married him. The two women hate each other, and Celia is from Sugar Ditch, thought to be a town of “white trash.” Celia has no friends, a huge mansion, a loving husband and no children.

 

Skeeter Phelan is an aspiring writer living on a big plantation outside of Jackson. She has just graduated from college and started a job at the Gazette writing the “Miss Myrna” column —  a column with housekeeping tips. Writing at a newspaper isn’t even close to what Skeeter wants: Skeeter wants to write books. When Miss Stein, a famed newspaper publisher in New York, offers Skeeter a chance to get her a break, she is thrilled.

 

The catch? Write something fresh, controversial even. That leads to “The Help,” the book within this novel about the maids, segregation and discrimination. Maids, under pseudonyms, tell their stories of working for white families.

As Skeeter talks to Aibileen, Minny and many other maids, she tries to investigate the disappearance of her own maid Constantine, who raised her and is her best friend.

 

As Miss Hilly starts shunning Skeeter and dictating society, Skeeter goes from best friend to worst enemy. Skeeter pulls away from the norms of society, befriends the maids and starts to defend the black community. That does not bode well for a racist Hilly Holbrook.

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