Let me start out by saying, and I cannot overstate this, that The Help is the best book ever. I love, love, love this book - so much that I've recommended it to pretty well everyone, and given it as a gift to several people.
The Help is set in Mississippi during the civil rights movement - just prior to the march on Washington DC by Martin Luther King Jr. Our first main character is Skeeter - she should be a debutante, content to play bridge, attend club meetings and get married. She chose instead to go to Ole Miss - and not just to meet a man. Now she's back home, living on the plantation, with a mother determined to see her married before she dies and an urge to do something...different. Our next main character is Aibileen, a black maid raising her 17th white child, while still grieving for the loss of her son. She is devoted to the girl she looks after, even though she knows the child will most likely grow up to be a bigot, just like her parents, neighbors and friends. Our last main character is Minny, also a black maid, but much different than Aibileen. Where Aibileen is soft-spoken and mild, Minny is all fire and sass - and she's been fired more than once for talking back.
Skeeter is driven to the end of her rope by her friend Hilly's "home health sanitation initiative" - a drive to convince every white family who has black "help" to have a separate bathroom for them to use. Skeeter wants to be a journalist, but most of all, she wants to write a book. She decides she wants to write a book about "the help" - the black women who come into their homes, cook their meals, do their wash, raise their children. She is driven in part by the deep love she has for her own maid, Constantine, who disappeared without a trace while Skeeter was in school. The best and most dangerous part about this book is - she's going to tell the stories of these women by hearing it from their own mouths - the good, the bad, the horrible, the loving. If any of them are discovered, it could mean death.
The Help is touching, funny, horrifying, intense...all at once. There is some mild language (especially racial slurs) and a very small amount of graphic imagery, but in my opinion, this is a book that everyone needs to read. Go to your local bookstore, Kindle, Amazon, library, whatevs - but get it now and read it. Go forth!