I just finished this best selling novel by Kathryn Stockett, which is a good thing, because the movie version comes out on August 12th.
This fictionalized account of the relationships between several rich, proper, lily-white ladies and their "hired" help in Jackson, Mississippi that takes place in the early 1960's. That setting pits the height of the civil rights movement in the heart of the segregated south.
In this story Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan returns from college at Ole Miss to find her beloved nanny Constantine has left without explanation, and none is offered by her meddling mother, nor her too busy father. She forms an unlikely partnership with two of the "colored" help, one, "Abileen," that works for one of her sorority sisters, and another who used to work for the mother of another influential friend. "Minny," who was forced out of work by Skeeter's friend Hilly to take the only job she can get, with another "outsider," whose husband used to date Hilly. Minny has to keep the job a secret lest Hilly get her fired again.
1962 Jackson was a world of segregated groceries stores, hospitals, schools, and cities. Skeeter rebels against this system by cooking up a plot to publish the realities of what goes on inside homes where black nannies practically raise "their" white babies, while their mothers are off to luncheons, bridge clubs, hair salons, and more. The fathers are busy working the farms, factories, and oilrigs to pay much heed to their offspring as well.
Some treat their staff with dignity, others with complete malice and ignorance, such as making them use separate toilets. So the three women set out to chronicle the good and the bad, and keep it secret, less anyone find out, because it could cost them their lives.
As someone who lived in North Carolina for eighteen years, and heard lots of stories about the horrors of prejudice and triumphs of those who fought for equality, it was a fascinating trip back in time.
Stockwell tells the story from three different points of view - Skeeter, Minny, and Abileen. It takes a few chapters to get used to the dialect, but the pacing is terrific. As the ladies are pursuing their "secret" project, the tale almost has elements of a spy story. Clandestine meetings to work and coded messages with updates, since the help worked for Skeeter's friends, but she could speak to them in public.
A great read, and a terrific book.
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