Unless you've been under a rock lately, you've probably heard about this book. It has garnered rave reviews from a variety of sources. It was on the Today Show's list of the ten must read books for Spring, People Magazine gave it 3.5 out of 4 stars (saying "you'll catch yourself cheering out loud"), and Entertainment Weekly said "graceful and real, a compulsively readable story." It is even soon to be a major motion picture from Dreamworks.
So, what's it about? It's set in the rural south of the 1960s era, in Stockett's native Jackson, Mississippi. It was a time when black women raised white babies, but couldn't use the same bathroom as their employers. Skeeter, who is 22 years old, has just returned home from Ole Miss with her degree. She is a naive young woman with a domineering mother who's primary goal is to make sure she gets a ring on her finger. Skeeter is an aspiring writer who wants to create a book of interviews with local black maids and publish it anonymously. The risk of a book like that is great for all involved, but she manages to talk two local maids into participating: Aibileen and Minny. These three very memorable women are the backbone of the book. Aibileen is a wise, regal woman, raising her 17th white child. Minny is a wonderful cook, but has a bad habit of sassing back her employers, so has a hard time holding on to a job. And Minny is so hilarious. She just can't help but say what she thinks, with absolutely no governor on her mouth.
If you don't know much about the Jim Crow laws of the south, you'll be an expert in them by the time you finish this book. The historical background and setting is well drawn. You can't help but feel anger and outrage as these characters try to navigate within the constraints of their time. But some boundaries are just made to be broken.
This is an amazing first novel. It's a beautiful story that will break your heart and have you laughing all at the same time. The relationships between the women (mothers, daughters, caregivers, friends) rings authentic. It will pull you in from the first page, and you'll heave a sigh of sorrow when it's over. This book is a must read. I can't recommend it highly enough.