'The Help' Enthralls With Rare View of Jim Crow South
Debbie Barchi, Barrington Library director, often gives books as gifts. She reviews here one of five books she plans to give this year. We're running one review each Sunday until Christmas.
The Help takes place in the Jim Crow South, in Mississippi in the early 1960's. Segregation, no matter how brutal or demeaning, is a way of life, with few willing or able to challenge it.
Many white families in Jackson, Miss., had maids to clean their houses and raise their children, and these maids were inevitably black women or "colored" as they were called.
Simply put, author Kathryn Stockett's story is told through the eyes of three characters: Aibileen, a compassionate maid who has raised white children for 40 years; Minnie, a firebrand whose quick temper gets her fired from her servant jobs every year or so, and Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan, a young college educated white woman who doesn't seem to fit in anywhere.
Skeeter wants more than anything to live and work in New York City, away from her suffocating mother and the racist injustices of her small hometown. Following the promptings of a famous book editor, she decides to write a non-fiction book that will feature true stories about black maids working in Jackson, Mississippi.
The problem is that no maid would be crazy enough to take part in the project, knowing that if their identity were discovered, losing their jobs would be the least of their worries. How Skeeter eventually befriends Aibileen and convinces her to help with the project is the center of this novel, with its superb regional dialogue, quirky humor, fearful suspense, and essential message of hope and courage.
For this book in particular, I would recommend the recorded book version. What a delight it is to hear the four talented actresses purr, drawl, whisper, and shout in the vibrant and authentic voices of the people of Jackson, Mississippi.
Whether you listen to it or read it, The Help is enthralling!