Imagine living in Jackson, Mississippi in 1962, with the civil rights movement just beginning, and every white family having a black maid in their homes. Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan is newly graduated from Ole Miss with a degree in English when she returns home to live on her parents cotton farm.
Skeeter has always been an outsider, while her friends and fellow members of the Junior League are all married, she does not have an engagement ring, or even a boyfriend. Most of her friends follow in their mother’s footsteps, they have black maids who they count on to raise their families and keep their houses, but whom they also mistreat and despise.
While Skeeter is not racist herself, she is naive and until her best friend makes a political issue of allowing the “help” to use the toilets in their employers homes, she decides to take action. This is where she begins the writing of a book, in which the maids of Jackson, Miss. talk about their experiences working for the white women. But due to the increasing racial tension in town, they have to do this in secret, and everyone’s names must be changed.
Fear of being discovered and the potential consequences at first keep the maids from complying, but a stalwart woman named Aibileen, , who works for one of Skeeter’s friends, who has raised and nurtured 17 white children, signs on with Skeeter’s risky project, and eventually convinces 11 others follow.
Katheryn Stockett does an incredible job of relaying the experiences of the maids of Jackson, and the troubled relationships they have with their employers, who trust them to raise their children, but double count the silver after it has been polished. This is one of the best books I have read in a long time, it communicates the moral issues of the time, and tells a story of social awakening and friendship on both sides of the racial divide.