The Help
by Kathryn Stockett
(Amy Einhorn, $24.95)

The story behind this popular new novel is “cringe-worthy,” said Karen Valby in Entertainment Weekly. Inspired by her childhood relationship with a family maid, Kathryn Stockett, a young, white, first-time author, has created a tale about a young white author who helps black maids in 1962 Jackson, Miss., commit their stories to paper. But a book that could have been “goofily earnest” or worse turns out to be “graceful and real.” Two maids, Aibileen and Minny, get most of the attention, and Stockett has made them “tough, funny, vulnerable, conflicted women” who completely understand the risk they’re taking in speaking into a tape recorder provided by a naïve white do-gooder. There’s no doubt that “book groups armed with hankies” will gush over “the quiet bravery” of those two women, said Janet Maslin in The New York Times. Once a reader adjusts to their dated dialect (“Law have mercy!”), it’s the novel’s biased white characters who seem most roughly caricatured. That said, the injuries that bigotry causes here remain circumscribed within a “comfortable, reader-friendly world.” The Help is a winning book, but one you may finish with misgivings.