My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, as I thought I would. I'm glad I waited until I had time to do it justice. My father's family is from Mississippi and from the beginning I related to the book. I'm always afraid that books written about the places I know will not capture all the nuances of life there. Everything about this was perfect. The dialog was absolutely on target and I' not surprise to see that Kathryn Stockett is from Jackson. She was also able to capture the good along with the not so good of these people and she wrote about them with love and respect.
Skeeter Phelan is 23 when the book opens and has recently graduated from "Ole Miss," during the turbulent civil rights era, and when she comes home to Jackson, MS finds herself in the unenviable position of having graduated with only half a degree...missing the compulsory "Mrs." degree. Unfortunately, after 4 years in college, she has not found a husband and none in the offing.
Her friends have already established themselves in the Junior league, a bridge club and started their households with a suitable black daily maid. Skeeter has grown up with these young women, but finds herself not fitting in as well as she did all through her life. Part of the trouble is that her family maid Constantine, who has raised her for 19 years has disappeared and no one wants to talk much about it. Missing Constantine has made her more aware the importance of the maid's position in the hearts of their "white children," and she sees things that she does and doesn't like in her friends treatment of their maids.
While working for the local newspaper in the household help column, she gets to know Aibileen Clark, the maid for her friend, Elizabeth. At loose ends, Skeeter decides to write a book about the lives of these Southern black maids, and Aibileen is reluctantly willing to help her find other maids who will talk about their experiences, both good and bad. As the project goes on, Skeeter begins to realize the risk they are taking and as the civil rights movement begins to heat up, the stories of the maids take on meaning.
The book is written sensitively with a loving hand. The relationship of the negro maid and her young white charges is very complex and often filled with a deep love and dependence. The maids frequently feel more like a mother to their white children and yet, they may be let go for little reason, breaking a tie which is devastating to both child and maid. On the other hand, insensitive things like building a special bathroom in the garage so they don't have to use bathrooms the family uses are also a part of their lives. Kathryn Stockett has written about this complex relationship beautifully. I'm sure I will be reading this again.
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