The Help is a pretty amazing book. It's one of the few I've read recently that I literally haven't been able to put down. It's about three women in 1960s Mississippi - Skeeter, who is white and has just finished college, and Aibileen and Minny who are both black maids. Each has their own problems, Skeeter has a mother who is very keen to get her married off well as soon as possible, as well as some pretty unbearable "friends". Aibileen, who works for one of Skeeter's "friends", and Minny have the problem of being black in an incredibly unequal society. This is what gripped me and totally appalled me - this is only 50 years ago, after all. The white and black people, although they can now use the same buses, thanks to Rosa Parks, have separate schools, housing areas, libraries, even different toilets for the maids in the white person's house. How on earth anybody ever thought this made any sense at all is beyond me. What seems worse (?) than the visible racism of this though, is the patronising attitude of most of the white employers - that they know best, that things like separate toilets are a good thing (eh?), even though the black maids are trusted with the care of the white children.
The action is narrated in turn by the three characters, giving an insight into the different perspectives. Of course, I had the advantage of knowing what would happen in the end - and several times I longed to be able to whisper to the characters that 50 years later there would be a black President. What is also shocking, is the way that anyone who stands up against the inequalities risks their life. Several times in the story someone gets beaten up and their life changed forever, just because they dared to do something like go into a white shop when they're black. Skeeter begins a project to publish the stories of the black maids, and it is clear that even by talking to her like this, the maids are risking everything.
So, I recommend reading this. It's definitely not in the "To kill a mocking bird" classics category but it is very very readable as well as shocking. This is the copy of the book I read: