Stockett’s first novel follows the lives of three women during the early 1960’s in Jackson, Mississippi where the black maids (“the help”) not only manage the households of their employers but also largely assume responsibility for raising many of their children. The book clearly describes the poor pay and working conditions and also offers a broader perspective of the civil rights issues of the time as well as the general status of women.
A review in Kirkus reviews criticizes the book as follows… “Skeeter’s narration is alive with complexity–her loyalty to her traditional Southern mother remains even after she learns why the beloved black maid who raised her has disappeared. In contrast, Stockett never truly gets inside Aibileen and Minnie’s heads (a risk the author acknowledges in her postscript).”
You might want to check out Kathryn Stockett’s website and an author interview. The New York Times review appears to disagree with the Kirkus Reviews stance as to the strongest characters in the novel and a later New York Times interview touches on the issue of a white author writing being able to escape stereotying characters. There is also a short interview with the author on NPR or a Penguin publisher’s podcast.