The Help,” by Kathryn Stockett, is an insightful and thought-provoking novel about race relations in Jackson Mississippi in the 1960s.

Skeeter has just graduated from college and come back to her childhood home.

She has taken up her duties in the Junior League, all the while listening to her mother admonish her about her unrefined appearance and lack of a husband.

Skeeter has grown apart from her childhood friends and their expectations: She wants to be a journalist or an author. It is not likely she will ever get married. She is too tall, and her hair is too frizzy – she is not her mother’s idea of a polite Southern belle.

While Skeeter was in college, the family’s maid of 27 years left the household, and no one will tell Skeeter why. Her mother stonewalls her. Her father doesn’t seem to know anything. Some of her friend’s maids know something but they will not tell.

Abileen works for Skeeter’s friend Elizabeth. Abileen has raised many a white baby, loving them fiercely even though they grow up to be just like their mothers.

Elizabeth is a cold mother, more interested in the League and in appearances than in touching her children. Abileen tells the children daily about how good and special they are, trying to calm them from the impact of their mother’s rejection.

Skeeter begins to observe all of this. And while she listens to her friend Helly harangue on about the maid she just fired, Skeeter decides to write a social commentary on maids and their employers. With Abileen’s help she begins to interview maids and nannies.

It is 1962. Rosa Parks is no longer sitting in the back of the bus. Medgar Evers lives in Abilene‘s neighborhood and John Kennedy is president.

This is a wonderful book that I could not put down. There are friendships between whites and blacks, but with segregation, all feelings are suspect.

How much of the supposed friendship is just pragmatism or fear? Is any of it genuine? The author has shed a brilliant light on the many interactions that still continue today between the person in charge and his/her subordinates.