Well, everyone was right. This book was highly recommended to me by at least a dozen people. I have yet to meet anyone who didn't love it (though that could change at Book Club in 2 weeks.)
For the unfamiliar: The Help is set in the very early 1960s in Jackson, Mississippi, narrated by three women: Aibileen and Minny, African-American domestics, and Skeeter, a 22-year-old recent college graduate trying to find her way in an adult society she is increasingly discovering is not a world she wants to participate in.
It was fantastic. Might be the best book I read in 2010. Will be hard to top. Last book I read that was this good was Olive Kitteridge. Of course the two books really couldn't be more different. As with everyone, I also was skeptical about a fairly young (40-ish) white woman writing this story, but it holds up. Through the tone, the voices, it's unfailingly consistent, authentic, and heart-wrenching. It's also over 450 pages but I zipped through it in just 1 1/2 days. While the story seems like it would be relatively staid - the lives of Southern black maids and their white families during the beginning of the civil rights movemenet - it becomes edge-of-the-seat gripping. These women may not have been The Greensboro Four or participating in the March on Selma, but in their own small way they risk everything to bring to light the daily atrocities that these maids had to deal with to keep food on their tables and a roof over their heads.
My family still has a black "cleaning lady" who comes twice a week at my father's house. We've had her as long as I can remember. Luckily things have changed. She gets vacation and sick days, her social security is paid up, and we truly do consider her a member of the family. When my sister got married, she insisted that Nancy be in the family wedding pictures, and we all instantly agreed. It's a bit shocking to think of how much things have changed in just 2 generations. Mae Mobley's children would be a little youngeer than me and would find this world completely foreign. I do wonder how the Yankees in my book club will perceive this book differently than I did. It will be interesting to discuss! Something I haven't done in a very long time: the minute I put the book down I picked up the phone to call a girlfriend who I know read the book last month so we could discuss it. It's that good.