OK, so I know I am just about the last person on the planet to read this book, but I picked it up at my mom-in-law's house and got completely hooked.
I had avoided it in the past because there was a certain level of hysteria about it, and when people go around quoting books, I kind of get turned off them ("You is kind..."). Also, I had some unease about the idea that the white author was using black stories to sell a book - it felt a little like literary blackface.
ANYWAY, reservations aside, I just completely and absolutely loved this. Lovely characters, nailbiting story (as much as I loved the book, I was terrified the whole time that The Thing was going to happen), beautiful message. It was just great. And it dealt with its subject matter with appropriate sympathy and sensitivity.
For anyone not living on Earth, the story revolves around three characters, Skeeter (yup), a white girl who wants to be a writer and is told by a New York publisher to write about what she cares about, Aibeleen, a domestic helper (they are called "maids" in the book) who has lost her son but nonetheless loves the white people's children she cares for, and Minny, also a maid who has a bit of a problem with talking back to her unreasonable white employers.
Well, it turns out that the thing that Skeeter cares about is civil rights (although she doesn't quite realise it yet). She sets about writing a book about the relationship between white Southern women and their help, and asks Aibeleen, who works for a friend of hers, to get other maids to talk to her. Only problem is that they are actually risking their lives - and certainly their livelihoods - to do so.
The Help is an emotional rollercoaster with a touching message and a strong undercurrent of hope. If you, like me, weren't sure about reading it, I can't recommend it strongly enough.