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Three women in Mississippi

Had Kathryn Stockett not been born and raised in Jackson, Miss., she could not have written with such feeling and compassion her novel, “The Help.” “The Help” describes an era in our history that you cannot wholly understand unless you lived through it. Even then, you may not understand “the other side of the story.” As with all history, you can only imagine and draw conclusions from the experience of others. Kathryn Stockett comes very close to giving the reader a true depiction of the way it was as I remember it.

Kathryn Stockett’s debut novel takes me back to my childhood in Natchez when my parents tried to protect my siblings and me from the atrocities surrounding us in the evolving relations between blacks and whites. Newspapers were turned face down, television channels were changed and conversations were ended whenever our eyes and ears were present. Be it good or bad, that is the way it was in our home. I believe my parents were afraid if we witnessed hateful acts then we would hate or we would fear being hated. Perhaps their actions were out of love and respect for Julia our family’s “help.” Julia worked for my grandparents for about 50 years. She began work in her teens and was faithful to us even beyond the death of my grandmother. In my mind, it is hard to separate my love of Julia from my love for Mammaw, my grandmother. The love was so complex. Even now almost 30 years following Julia’s death, I never think of Mammaw without also thinking of Julia who loved my family…Julia, who was loved by my family.

In “The Help,” Stockett gives us Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny; three women, two black and one white. Skeeter, the Ole Miss graduate in a time when there were few opportunities for women with degrees other than teaching, dreamed of being a writer. She presented to a New York editor her idea of writing a book about the junior auxiliary women of Jackson, Miss., and their black help. The editor was intrigued by the idea but was wary due to the explosive atmosphere caused by race relations in the South. The New York publishing company required that Skeeter interview no less than 12 maids for the book. Finding and interviewing 12 black women became difficult due to the danger and fear of the time. Skeeter was able to enlist Aibileen, a maid she had befriended at her weekly bridge club. Aibileen enlisted her best friend, Minny. The two friends enlisted others from their church congregation to help. Many convoluted relationships were revealed during the interviews conducted in secret by Skeeter. What results is a poignant novel that gives us hope for a brighter future of mutual love and respect between the two races.

“The Help” is due to release for sale Feb. 10. I believe it will be the best book of the season and recommend it to all who enjoyed “The Secret Life of Bees” by Sue Monk Kidd or the blockbuster “Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini. Beth Henley, Pulitzer prize-winning playwright of “Crimes of the Heart,” says of Stockett’s novel, “A wonderful book.. A compelling and comically poignant tale about three women, and a time and a place that are in many ways very much still with us.” You do not want to miss this debut novel by Kathryn Stockett.

Kathryn Stockett graduated from the University of Alabama with a degree in English and creative writing. After graduation, she moved to New York City where she worked in magazine publishing and marketing for nine years. She currently lives in Atlanta with her husband and daughter.

— Mary Emrick

Turning Pages Books & More, Natchez

The Help

by Kathryn Stockett

(Penguin Putnam)

$24.95

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