I was reminded a few weeks ago of the old saying that we should not judge a book by its cover. My initial thoughts about The Help, based purely on the merits of its cover illustration I have to admit, was that it was another one of those shallow romance novels that I routinely avoid.

The moment I lifted its cover and read through the first few paragraphs, however, that was when I quickly realized my mistake. Those masterful few sentences held me like not many books could, and I became enmeshed in the time and place that The Help was centered on – the balmy, humid world of 1960s segregation-era Mississippi.

Unless you’ve just landed from another galaxy, I'm certain you've heard about this book sweeping the nation called The Help. We're actually a bit late with this review as the book was released in the U.S. some time ago but seems to have only just received the attention it deserves from the British public recently.

The movie version of the The Help by director Tate Taylor was a box office hit getting 5 Oscar nominations two years ago. If you'd like to watch the flick instead, it's currently available on DVD for as low as 99p.

The book is told from the points of view of three people whose lives begin to converge to a critical juncture in the story. There’s Aibileen Clark (my favourite), an African-American woman who loves children and is employed with the white Leefolt household. Aibileen’s narration takes you directly into the very heart of the Leefolt household as she relates her observations and her own reactions with such candor, lucidity, and wisdom. Aibileen will have even the hardest heart softening as she tells of young Mae Mobley, the baby girl unloved by her own mother ostensibly for being too homely.

Then we have Skeeter , the daughter of a wealthy white family. Her family have hired African-American workers for generations and she has accepted conventions such as not dining at the same table with the servants or not having pleasant talks with black people as normal. However, as an aspiring novelist, she soon grows into her own woman and starts criticizing the ridiculous rules, only to collide head-on with some terrible consequences.

Finally, there's the combative Minny Jackson, Aibileen's friend who got fired from nineteen different households for telling her employers what she thought of them. It seems she had the kind of demeanor many white people hate but as we soon discover she was simply questioning the  unfairness in their circumstances and being unreserved about it.

As the three friends begin to work together to tackle common adversaries, a compelling story unfolds that forces you to delve even deeper into this world. There is a genuine sense of terror in the black population as they are assaulted for simple missteps like relieving themselves in the wrong lavatory and you swear with indignation as you recognise that the hideous idea of black people belonging to an inferior species altogether was in fact not unusual among the whites.
The book is set right at the time when Martin Luther King Jr. made a stand for civil rights in America. However, Mississippi was resistant to racial equality back then and the white population considered their domestics as if they were less than human. Laws were in the books that ensured blacks constantly remember who their masters are - they couldn’t use a lavatory indoors (for fear of infecting whites with their diseases), they were banned from shopping in the same stores, they were forbidden to express an opinion, and they were ordinarily paid less than the  small minimum salary mandated by law at the time.

Many of us are aware of this ugly facet of American history, so why is The Help making such an impact in the year 2013? Outside of the writing skills and talent of Ms. Stockett, I think the book effectively managed to connect to our inner sense of justice and the fundamental belief in each other’s humanity along with all the prerogatives and liberties that it entails.