I'm not sure what I think of this book. It's well written and the characters will stay with me for quite some time, which for me is a sure sign that this is a good book. But I can honestly say I feel confused by this book in some ways. Maybe I can explore that here.
The Help is about the maids/housekeepers/nannies of Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960's. I have no personal concept of having someone do your housework and raise your children for you, mostly because of where I grew up (further North) and the society I grew up in (I never knew anyone that had hired help at all). So this book was like entering a foreign country for me, one where racism is so deeply ingrained that you would build another bathroom in your house just for the black maid to use.
Mostly this book is about Aibileen, a black woman in her 50's who's job is to clean a white family's house and raise a white family's children, all while not complaining about her foul treatment at the hands of her employers. It's about the complex relationships between these women and the white children they love, and who love them in return. That is until they reach the age when the subtle teachings of their society make them realize that the woman they love is less than human in their parents' eyes.
It's also about the relationships between the white women who depend on their maids, and the maids who make their lives run smoothly. These white women can make their maids' lives hell on Earth, as is the case with Yule May. Or they can try to befriend their maids, and treat them as equals, which is what Celia tries to do with Minny. Either way, the relationships are tense and filled with a protocol that has been laid down by centuries of racism--the maid eats lunch in the kitchen alone, while the lady of the house eats in the dining room alone--both of them eating the same meal that the maid has prepared; the maid is to use one plate, cup, and set of silverware for themselves, and keep them separate so they aren't accidentally used by the white family--but the maid has to clean and polish all the good silver in the house.
It's a bizarre world that existed in Mississippi back then, before the civil rights movement had reached its peak. And it's hard to believe sometimes how far we've come as a nation and as individuals learning to live together.
We live in a strange world. The Help is a wonderful road map of where we've come from, and a hopeful and shining beacon of where we are still going.