Since I've been on Christmas break, I haven't read many books. Maybe one or two. I've fallen into some kind of book lethargy. After I checked out at the library, I realized the book had a 7-day tag on it. 444 pages in 7 days? My book lethargy made it unlikely.
Then I settled on the corner of the couch, my head filled with congestion, my sneezes coming so hard I was in danger of knocking myself out if I hit something, and I opened the cover of The Help. The first chapters are written first person in the voice of an African American maid, Aibileen, in Mississippi during the early 1960s. I was put off by the colloquialism and flipped to the picture of the author, Kathryn Stockett, a young white woman.
"Oh, this is not good," I told Grace, showing her the picture of the author and reading a few lines from the book.
Taking care a white babies, that's what I do, along with all the cooking and the cleaning. I done raised seventeen kids in my lifetime. I know how to get them babies to sleep, stop crying, and go in the toilet bowl before they mamas even get out a bed in the morning.
I was embarrassed for her trying to cover this topic and thought the author was in grave danger, trying to capture the voice of black maids in the South before the Civil Rights Movement. The writing kept me intrigued though, so I continued to the next narrator, Minny, another African American maid. Then the third and final narrator began to speak, a young white woman, Skeeter, who had just returned from college. The Help parallels the experience of Skeeter, who tried to convince the maids to tell her their stories of what life was like for women who had to constantly serve white families, giving up their own children and needs. The maids, reluctant to trust a young, privileged, white woman, eventually embrace the idea of anonymously sharing their stories even as they fear the retribution they may face.
My synopsis doesn't do the book justice. The story unfolds revealing all the drama, like the reader is peeking through the curtains into another, very foreign universe. Yet the emotions, the racism, the actions all seem familiar, as if a trace of them remain in all of us today.
If you get a chance to read the book, do. I bet you can even beat the 7-day deadline if you get if from the library. I finished it in three days, even with a day spent entertaining family. Okay, I had to pay Tucker $10 to wash dishes so I could sit and read today, but it was well worth it.