This book has spent a lot of time on my TBR list but I did eventually get around to reading it! Here is the Kobo store summary:
Aibileen is a black maid in 1962 Jackson, Mississippi, who’s always taken orders quietly, but lately she’s unable to hold her bitterness back. Her friend Minny has never held her tongue but now must somehow keep secrets about her employer that leave her speechless. White socialite Skeeter just graduated college. She’s full of ambition, but without a husband, she’s considered a failure. Together, these seemingly different women join together to write a tell-all book about work as a black maid in the South, that could forever alter their destinies and the life of a small town…
I really enjoyed this book. It took me a bit longer than usual to finish, but I have been pretty busy lately with work and wedding stuff, so I lost a significant amount of my reading time. However, this book was always in the back of my mind, wondering when I’d get to pick it up again and see what happened next.
The book is narrated by three different characters: Aibileen, Minny, and Skeeter. Aibileen and Minny are both maids in 1960’s Mississippi. Skeeter is a young girl from a wealthy family. Eventually, the three of them wind up working on a book about the stories of the black ‘help’ in their town.
I don’t want to talk much about plot specifics because I think it really is one of those books that you should read for yourself. It just unfolded so well. Sometimes it’s annoying to read a book with multiple narrators, but I think it was done really well here.
While Aibileen, Minny, and Skeeter are the main characters, there are others who are important to the story: Hilly Holbrook, Minny’s one-time boss; Elizabeth Leefolt, Aibileen’s boss (and friend of Hilly and Skeeter); Mae Mobley, Elizabeth Leefolt’s daughter; Celia Foote, Minny’s boss…there are others, but I’ll stop there. I liked the way the different characters were all connected to each other, and reading about each narrator’s interactions with the same characters.
I was drawn into this book right away. I cared about Aibileen and Minny, and as Skeeter’s character was introduced and I got to know more about her life, I felt for her, too. They were all different people, with their own concerns, but came together to work on the book.
I also liked Celia, Minny’s boss. She seemed a little strange at first and a bit wacky, but as more was revealed about her character, I grew to like her. I liked that she was on the outside of the Hilly/Elizabeth social circle as well – it was a nice change of pace to read about Celia sometimes.
I didn’t care much for Hilly, the leader of the social circle that included Skeeter and Elizabeth. I think Hilly’s character embodies the prejudices of that time and while we weren’t supposed to like her, I guess I was holding out hope for some sort of turn-around for her character by the end. I’m not sure how realistic that might have been though. Hilly is an antagonist for all three narrators throughout the novel and there were times where I wanted to reach into the book and slap her!
While I just outright did not like Hilly, I felt strangely sorry for Elizabeth. She was always wanting to please, particularly Hilly, and never seemed very interested in her children. I can’t pretend to know or understand what life was like at that time, for anyone, but reading about her made me feel so claustrophobic: her whole life revolved around bridge club and the Junior League, and what other people would think of her.
I think the book demonstrates that no matter their age or skin colour, the characters in this book all had their own issues and concerns.
I have read a couple of other reviews that mention how one-dimensional most of the male characters in this book are, and I would have to agree. However, on the whole, I thought the book was well-written and most of the characters well-developed and interesting.
This book is situated in a time and place about which I have no personal experience, so I can’t speak to its authenticity, but it was certainly interesting, and made me think.
There is more that I want to say, about Skeeter’s relationship with Stuart, and Aibileen’s relationship with the children she ‘raises’, and Minny, but I feel like I couldn’t do justice to how much I liked reading the book and how well-written I think it is.
If you read this, and I recommend that you do, I would love to hear your thoughts!