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The Help    by Kathryn Stockett order for
by Kathryn Stockett
Order:  USA  Can
Putnam, 2009 (2009)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Joan Burton

The Help is the remarkable story of three women, all different but all trying to make a difference by letting their voices be heard. It is the early sixties in Jackson, Mississippi and there is political unrest in the South. It is a demeaning time for all the blacks who are trying to earn a living by working for wealthy and middle class families.

Twenty-two old Eugenia Phelan - or Skeeter, as she is known - has graduated from Ole Miss. She has earned her degree in English and wants to be a writer. She wants more out of life than a husband and children. Skeeter is mourning the loss of Constantine, the family maid who raised her. She has returned to Longleaf, the family cotton plantation to find Constantine gone and no one will tell her what happened.

Aibileen is a black woman in her fifties. Her whole life has been dedicated to white families, raising their children, cleaning their homes and cooking their meals. She is full of wisdom and kindness and takes pride in her work. She mourns the loss of her only child, her son Treelore, who was killed on a job site while white men looked the other way. Aibileen is now working for Skeeter's best friend, Elizabeth Leefolt, raising Elizabeth's daughter Mae Mobley, whom she adores.

Minny is Aibileen's best friend. She too works for white families but her sassy attitude gets her into plenty of trouble. She is outspoken and blunt with her white employers and she is always looking for yet another job. Minny is struggling at home with five young children and an abusive husband. She accepts a position for a new lady in town who has not heard of her reputation. Miss Celia and Minny are both busy keeping secrets.

Wanting to pursue a career in writing, Skeeter is told by a New York publishing company to gain experience first by writing for a newspaper. She lands a job for the local paper writing an advice column on home cleaning. Never having cleaned in her life she turns to Aibileen to give her the answers for the weekly column. Meeting with Aibileen leads Skeeter to ask an innocent question that will change their lives forever: 'Do you wish you could change things?'

Skeeter, Aibileen, Minny, with the help of many other maids, start working on a project for a book. They meet secretly at night, under the cover of darkness, and behind locked doors. Everyone has stories, good and bad, that need to be told. They change all the names of the white families, and the name of the town. The authors will also be anonymous. They feel a freedom in the telling, but if caught, they know the price they will pay. Tension mounts as they work hard to meet the deadline and send the manuscript off to New York City. They await the decision and wonder what will happen in Jackson when the book reaches readers.

The Help is a beautifully written book I didn't want to end. It is told in the voices of Skeeter, Aibileen, and Minny and you are transported into their lives. You will laugh out loud, get mad, and shed tears.

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