The Help by Katherine Stockett (The Berkeley Publishing Book, 2009)
I saw the very memorable movie made from this book in the theater when it came out several years ago. If you missed the movie, you should definitely read the book; I picked it up at a library book sale because I thought it was worth owning. It’s almost a meta-novel: a novel about a group of African-American housemaids writing a book about their experiences working for Southern white women in the early 1960’s. It’s hard for me to understand why young white women in their early twenties who could afford to hire maids to do their housework for them didn’t want to take care of their own children. Instead they expected the maids (who often had children of their own who someone else watched while they worked) to babysit on top of doing housework. Many maids developed an emotional bond with the white children, only to be rejected and despised when the children grew up to be their employers. Some of the stories of callousness toward the lives of black people on the part of the whites are truly appalling, and undoubtedly had counterparts in real life. Certainly the rules about segregated bathrooms, schools, businesses, and every other part of everyday life that existed for decades in the American South are all too true. The Help is one of those classic pieces of literature that vividly documents the culture of a time and place, for students of later generations to study.