The Help by Kathryn Stockett
I was sent an advanced reader's copy of this title, with the aside that this first novel has more excitement surrounding its release than my contact has seen in any other first novel. Between that and the names on the book jacket, I was definitely in line for a copy.
What a wonderful, wonderful read.
It's 1962 in Jackson, Mississippi, a time of gentility, manners - and maids. This novel is told in three voices - Aibileen, a wise, regal maid, Minny, her overly-outspoken fellow maid, and Skeeter, a white woman who believes there has to be more to life than bridge clubs and cotillions. Those these women are so different from each other, they come together for a secret project, that, though risky, could reap huge rewards.
This is a wonderful piece of fiction-writing, seeming to really capture the spirit and mood of race relations in 1960s Mississippi, as well as the limitations still in place for women. The murder of Medgar Evers, the integration of universities, the murder of JFK are all woven into this story, and seen through the character's eyes. What I found most remarkable was how pitch-perfect each character's voice was - the differences between not only race, but class and education. I was simply blown away, hearing each character's voice so clearly in my head.
I don't know how to adequately describe this novel, except to say that I stayed up late reading it, enjoyed every word, and plan to hand my ARC to my friends, one by one.
These characters resonate. This story will stay with you. Put it on your "to read" list now.
Note: This title will be released February 10, 2009.