It took me several weeks to finally retrieve The Help from the library's waiting list, but I was determined to find out what the fuss was about. Kathryn Stockett's first novel has appeared on The New York Times bestseller list for 48 weeks. It was worth the wait. The Help (Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam) is a beautiful story of a powerful bond that develops between three women in the segregated South.

The Help, set in Mississippi, 1962, will likely remind readers of Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning To Kill a Mockingbird for its themes of racial injustice, class differences, and gender roles. Stockett's story begins by introducing her most charming character, Aibileen, a black maid who spends her days taking care of white babies and her nights writing down prayers. The woman she works for has just been convinced to install a special bathroom for Aibileen's use, believing that African Americans carry special diseases. Overhearing the conversation, a white woman named Skeeter asks Aibileen whether she ever wishes she could change things. Her question is cut short by Aibileen's employer, but the idea lingers with Aibileen.

"The thing is though, if I start praying for Miss Skeeter, I know that conversation gon continue the next time I see her," Aibileen says. "And the next and the next. Cause that's the way prayer do. It's like electricity, it keeps things going …. Law, I reckon I just go ahead and put Miss Skeeter on the list, but how come, I don't know."

Skeeter is a 22-year-old budding writer whose mentor has instructed her, "Write what disturbs you, particularly if it bothers no one else." She embarks on a project to interview several black maids and tell the stories of how their employers treat them. The challenge, though, ...

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