This historical fiction novel follows Miss Skeeter, a white girl in 1960s Mississippi who was raised by a black maid. When she comes back home after graduating, she discovers that her maid, Constantine, has left, and she decides that she wants to both find out what happened to Constantine and change the way black people are treated in her hometown. So she starts interviewing the maids, hoping to get enough stories to write a book about what it’s really like to be a black maid taking care of white children and their families.
Now, before you decide to ignore this book because it’s written by a white lady and about another white lady trying to change things for black people – I think it was done extremely well. The main character, Miss Skeeter, is perfectly aware of how privileged she is, and she never makes things about herself. She listens to all of the stories without ever judging or leaving out details she doesn’t like, and she knows exactly that the book she’s writing is not her work, but the maids’. The author also wrote a very nice explanation at the end of the book, where she talks about how she was very unsure about how to write about racism in the 1960s while being white herself. I think the book comes across as a really well-researched and honest attempt at changing the way people look at black maids and the way they were treated at the time. I never thought oh wow, she feels special because she’s an ally while reading this book.
The three main characters are extremely likable, which made it a very enjoyable read. There’s Miss Skeeter, the white lady who’s writing the book, there’s Aibileen, an older maid who works for a really annoying woman, and there’s Minny, another maid who always talks back and has lost a couple jobs because of it. Miss Skeeter has two best friends in town from back in high school, Elizabeth and Hilly, and they’re both terrible people. Elizabeth is an annoying, ignorant lady, but she doesn’t come off as completely evil – Hilly, however, is the devil in person. You know, there are people who are bad because they’re ignorant and dumb and were raised that way, and then there are people who are bad because they’re just evil. However, I found both girls to be incredibly believable. They were not just bad people in every way; they cared about Skeeter and had their positive sides. Aibileen was definitely my favourite character, although Minny was pretty bad-ass.
There’s also some romance in this book, between Skeeter and some boring rich guy, but while I didn’t really enjoy that, I LOVED where it went. I was really happy about the way the author decided to handle the relationship, as it was kind of unusual.
Now, I had seen the movie adaptation of this book before reading it, so most of the story wasn’t suprising, but since it had been a few years I still found a lot of the little twists quite delightful. I thankfully didn’t remember the ending at all, which was great – especially because I loved the way the author wrapped everything up nicely. All the issues were resolved, and I wasn’t disappointed by anything. (Also, did you know Viola Davis played Aibileen in the movie? I love that woman.)
This novel is a very well-written look at a dark part of history – I found the idea to be quite unique, as I’d never heard anyone talk about black maids before, and the execution was magnificent. I very highly recommend it.
‘Till next time and happy reading!