Skeeter has graduated from college and moved back to her family home in Jackson, Mississippi in 1962. She is distraught that the family maid who helped raise her, Constantine, is no longer there and no one will tell her where she has gone, and also by her mother's insistence that she marry. Skeeter manages to get a job at the local newspaper writing a cleaning column. Since she knows nothing about cleaning, she enlists the help of a friend's black maid, Aibileen. Skeeter also writes to Harper and Row publishers about a job and gets a reply back from a woman who encourages her to write. After several unfortunate incidences with her friend Hilly, who is insisting that all of the black maids need their own separate bathrooms built outside the homes where they work, Skeeter decides to interview black maids about their experiences. Aibileen agrees, but it is difficult to find others who will help. Minny, who has trouble keeping jobs because of her mouth, agrees as well. As the South heats up with various civil rights activities, and local issues arise as well, more of "the help" agree to be part of the project, even though it means personal danger for them. The relationships between the employers and employees, whether good or bad, are the basis for this book that discusses the way things were at a pivotal time during the Civil Rights Movement.
Strengths: The points of view were especially interesting, and to me, this was almost as much about women's rights at the time as it was about Civil Rights. Skeeter's behavior is not the norm for well-raised women at the time, but she triumphs. I can see why this has been such a popular title. And yes, now I want to see the movie, if only for the fashions.
Weaknesses: I think I've been ruined for reading adult literary fiction. Since I had to buy a copy of this for Surly Teen Boy's sophomore English class, I figured I would evaluate it for appropriateness in the middle school. Aside from one scene where a woman has a miscarriage in her bathroom, and another where a crazy man exposes himself to a woman and her maid, this one is fine... but really boring! I forgot that in most adult fiction nothing happens! As far as Surly Teen Boy reading this... I just shake my head. No wonder teen boys stop reading if their limited time is taken up with perfectly fine books that really are not appropriate for THEM.
Emma gets a new computer as a guilt gift from her father who has moved away and now has a new family, and her friend Josh comes over with an America Online CD-ROM with 100 free hours. This is big stuff in 1996, so the two download it and log on. Emma sees a web site called Facebook, and sees a 30-something woman who looks a lot like her. The woman is not happy with her husband or her life, and Emma begins to realize that she is seeing her future. She consults Josh, who was her best friend until a misunderstanding where he thought she wanted to be more than friends-- now they are rather awkward with each other. In Josh's future, he is married to the hottest girl in their high school, so when Emma starts trying to change the future, he's not happy. Of course, while Emma is obsessed with her future, real life continues in her high school. Emma tries to change the future by getting to know a boy who looks hot when he's "old" (32!), and tries to change where she lives and even her job by deciding on different majors and making pronouncements about where she will and won't live. In the end, she begins to realize that there is no way to now what the future will bring, and no good way to influence it, so she might as well try to make the present as happy as she can.
Strengths: Wonderful premise, and the 1996 setting is clearly defined but not dwelt on overly much. My older daughter picked this up and was intrigued. I have needed more romance books, and this one will fit the bill. Love the digital cover!
Weaknesses: Some pointless vulgarity, but nothing too bad. Made me really sad, and could have been much better done. In the end, I didn't like Emma or Josh very much.
Of course, this freaked me out in a major way-- my daughter is heading off to college, and I made so many mistakes in majors and life choices when I was her age that I want her to have A Plan while also realizing that any plan she makes is going to change. Stress! The book hits this right on the head, but also makes it hugely sad for someone my age. As for my daughter-- majoring in nursing and wanting to live in Colorado seems a bit more promising than wanting to be a college professor of Latin. I wanted to live in Virginia. Or England. And being a school librarian appeared nowhere at all in my plans.