I actually finished this book four days ago and have read another book since and am on to yet another book. What can I say, I'm lazy!
First of all, I really enjoyed the book and since I'm more of a horror/sci-fi/fantasy fan that's kind of saying something.
I'm not going to go over the plot too much because I'm fairly certain that everyone knows it in the broad strokes by now.
Skeeter Phelan is a Southern girl who comes back home from college with a degree rather than a husband. She wants to get into writing but is rejected from the first job she applies for (an editors position) due to lack of experience. Blah blah, she winds up deciding to write a book about the black maids in her town and what it's like to be working for white families who mostly look down on them and think of them as 'less than'.
That's the vehicle for the story, and I've head people complain that the book makes it seem like the women who speak to Skeeter were unable to help themselves until she came along. That is not the impression that I got at all. Skeeter comes up with the idea in order to further her own career, a fairly selfish motive. She doesn't think of the consequences until they're pointed out to her repeatedly. If it came out that these women were speaking to her they would be murdered and she'd be driven out of town at the best and killed herself at the worst. The fact that Skeeter wouldn't get an automatic death sentence from the local 'justice' just points out the difference between blacks and whites in that time and place.
But the book isn't about Skeeter except in the periphery. Her learning that the easy, fluffy and priviledged world she lives on is built on top of the remnants of slavery and cruelty toward other human beings. The story of the book is built on two maids, Aibileen and Minnie. They're the true driving force of the stories and the gathering of the other maids to tell their tales and they're the driving force of the book.
It's a fact that I think gets lost in the movie. The movie, for all that I enjoyed it *does* fall victim to the slant that Skeeter is the driving force. It comes across far more clearly in the novel that she is a side note to the lives and the stories of these women. She is a tool that they use to try and make a change, to make people aware of the reality that they all seem to want to ignore.
To give an example of the major changes from book to movie: Minnie leaves her abusive husband toward the end. In the movie, she is given the strength to do so because the woman that she is working for treats her just like any other human being and they become friends. The impetus to leave is seemingly provided by the act of Celia cooking Minnie a huge meal and Johnny (Celia's husband), Celia and Minnie all sitting down to dinner together. In the book, it is not an act of Celia or anyone else, but the fact that Minnie (due to her own actions and care for others) has made it possible for her to live independent of her husband and take care of her children. Were Celia, Johnny and Skeeter involved in the events that led to that? Yes. But they were the acted upon, in many ways, rather than the actors.
And that's that. It's a good book. Read it. End of story.
For those interested, the next book I read the The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly (very good!). And now I'm reading The Eagle by Rosemary Sutcliff.