On February 10, 2009, Kathryn Stockett’s The Help was released to the world with rave reviews and high honors. It tells the stories of three women in 1960s Jackson, Mississippi: Aibileen Clark, Minny Jackson, and Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan. Aibileen and Minny are black maids in white households, and Skeeter is a white woman who grew up with a black maid, Constantine. When Skeeter returns home after college, she finds Constantine is gone, and no one will say what happened. She soon realizes that the black help are not treated the same as the white help. She decides she wants to reveal the realities of being a colored maid. Aibileen’s and Minny’s stories are two of the ones she tells.
To celebrate the ten year anniversary of this wildly popular novel, we’ve compiled a reading list. If Aibileen, Minny, Skeeter, and their friends were alive today, these are some of the books they’d read.
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
What Skeeter was really trying to do in The Help was give voice to the voiceless. She was interested in social justice. If she were alive today, she’d likely read books like Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow voraciously. It describes how the privatization of prisons has incentivized incarceration, resulting in unequal enforcement of drug laws, putting countless black men behind bars and stripping them of their rights.
White Like Me by Tim Wise
When Skeeter was working on her book to pull back the curtain about racial injustices of her time, she was coming from a place of privilege. Up until recently, she hadn’t even realized that there was unequal treatment amongst black and white hired hands. Like Tim Wise, she chose to use her place of privilege to shed light on the way this inequality shapes the lives of all it touches—white and black alike.
Colorblind by Leah Harper Bowron
About five years after the conclusion of The Help and just one state over in Montgomery, Alabama, is the setting for Colorblind. This Young Adult novel follows a black teacher at an all-white school and her white disabled student as they are tormented by two other white students. It emphasizes the bravery required to stand up to ignorance, something many of the characters from The Help can relate to.
Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
This story, taking place in the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina, is a story of sacrifice, family, and community. Four motherless children—Esch, Skeetah, Randall, and Junior—all but abandoned by their father, must band together to stockpile food, nurture each other, and survive Hurricane Katrina. If the characters from The Help were alive today, this story would have rung true to them.
Becoming by Michelle Obama
Our first African-American President and First Lady was a big deal. Michelle Obama is an inspiring figure to us all, but especially to African American women. She has established herself as a powerful advocate for women in the US and around the world. Her wit, honesty, and candor shine in this bestselling memoir, which chronicles the experiences that have shaped her into who she is today.
The Egg Thief by Alane Adams
If Aibileen were alive today and still working in caregiving, The Egg Thief by Alane Adams would definitely be one of the books she reads to her charges. This story of a little boy in 1920s Philadelphia shows the realities of poverty and emphasizes the need for compassion and community. It’s an excellent example of how a child can be kind, smart, and important, just as she always reminds her charges.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
This modern Young Adult novel talks about one of the most hot-button issues around today: police brutality. When Starr witnesses a white police officer fatally shoot her childhood best friend, Khalil, who was unarmed, her life crashes around her. His death is a national headline. Protestors take to the streets in his name. Some call him a thug, drug dealer, or gangbanger. Starr must decide what to say—or withhold—on the witness stand.