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In Jackson, Mississippi during the Civil Rights era, a white woman stumbles on the idea of writing a book about the black maids of the area and the white families they work for.
There have been so many great reviews written for this book, that I don’t know if I have a whole lot more to add. I was alternately infuriated and then cheering for the characters. Seriously. On page 7, I was thinking, “Did I really just read that? Oh my gosh. What a bitch.” On page 9, I was laughing, thinking, “All right! I like this character. I can’t believe she said that!” And that’s how I went through the book. One extreme to the other. There were even parts that left me misty-eyed, and that doesn’t happen often.
The idea behind the book was great, but I think without the characters, I wouldn’t have liked it as well as I did. I just loved them all. Aibileen is so calm and wise, but she’s taken all she can take. She’s the one who left me wondering what part of your soul you have to tamp down or kill in order to put up with this kind of stuff. Miss Skeeter is the white society girl who went to college to actually learn, not to catch a husband. She wants to be a writer and only accidentally stumbled on this firestorm of an idea. She wasn’t quite as indoctrinated in this whole racist point of view as most of her friends, but she still didn’t know what she was letting herself in for. To her credit, even when she did realize and her world started falling apart, she knew that what she was doing was too important to stop. And then there’s Minny. Oh, my gosh, Minny. She’s called “every Southern white woman’s nightmare,” and she is. She just can’t make herself fit into a subservient box, so when she sees an injustice, she calls her employers on it. She’s also had something like nineteen employers in as many years.
I was surprised by some of the directions the book took. It is mostly the story that I expected. But as the maids are telling Skeeter their stories, they’re not all bad. Some have caring employers. Unfortunately, they’re the minority. Stockett also did a great job of showing that we aren’t born with these ideas, we’re taught them. I love the stories Aibileen tells her two-year-old charge to try to counteract the crap she’s being taught at home and later at preschool, not just the racist stuff, but even the self-esteem-lowering stuff. Some of these mothers let the maids raise their children, and only interfere to yell at their kids. That continues when they’re grown. There’s even a tiny little story in here that hits on homosexuality. So think about what side of the gay rights debate you’re on as you read this, thinking, “How can people think that way?” It won’t be too long before people are asking the same thing when reading about gay rights as a struggle in the past. And then there’s the way that we won’t let someone “rise” in society. One of Minny’s ladies is raised in a poor white area, but she’s married a rich man. She tries so hard to join this society, it will break your heart. But the doors stay closed, partly because of her background.
Just read this. It’s an important book for more reasons than I expected, but it’s also a very readable book with amazing characters. Most of you will love it.