“Write about what disturbs you,” Harper & Row editor Elaine Stein advises aspiring young journalist Skeeter Phelan. “Particularly if it bothers no one else.”
Taking her advice, Skeeter proposes a book idea that would dangerously challenge the delicate balance of Mississippi’s lifestyle and potentially skew the nation’s point of view forever.
Set in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1962, Kathryn Stockett’s The Help makes the shifting racial controversy of the time approachable. With three starkly different but equally relatable characters, Stockett represents varying points of view that come together in a dangerous and revolutionary union.
The novel follows the lives of three women: Aibileen Clark, a black housemaid raising her seventeenth white child; Aibileen’s best friend, Minny Jackson, a fiery maid who can’t seem to keep quiet; and Skeeter, a 23-year-old white woman just back from college. As Skeeter begins to notice the exhausting, underpaid, and virtually unnoticed work that black housemaids must do to earn a living, she proposes a risky idea for a book that would reveal the stories, good and bad, of Jackson’s maids.
Although they ache for change, Minnie and Aibileen are hesitant to help with a book that could potentially cost them their lives. Minnie is desperately clinging to her job – and what’s left of her tarnished reputation – at flashy Celia Foote’s mansion. Kind, 53-year-old Aibileen can hardly balance the three-year-old white baby she cares for with the grief for her dead son, let alone a life-threatening role in writing the book. However, as time passes, they find the only way to a brighter future is to take that risk.
Although the premise of The Help covers a dark chapter of American history, the warm and humorous characters make it an enjoyable and easy read. Minnie’s sassy personality alone captivates readers, but intertwined with Skeeter’s no-nonsense attitude, Stockett sheds light on this difficult topic and gives the Civil Rights movement an air of hope rather than anger and heartbreak. Along with these lighthearted elements, The Help has its fair share of danger, drama, and misfortune.
A number-one New York Times bestseller, The Help offers readers an account of historical fiction riddled with tragedy, love, and hope that will stay with them for a long time.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.