The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Everyone I know who's read this book is raving about it. And I am going to rave too. It is definitely up there in my top 10 books of all time. What a marvellous example of writing in distinctive voices. Best characterisation I've ever come across - those women really come to life.
It's set in Mississippi in the 1960s when, to quote Bob Dylan as the author does: 'the times they are a-changing'. There are three first person viewpoints - two are black maids working for white families, bringing up the children but not allowed to so much as use the same toilet as the whites. The third viewpoint is one of the white women - a young writer who has rather more forward-looking views than her friends. She gets to know the black women and together they write a book about what life is like for the black servants. They're treading on dangerous ground in those days of racial segregation and KKK lynchings.
The use of dialect and the rhythm of the language had me even thinking in a deep south accent after a while. I could feel the heat of the Mississippi summers radiating off the page. It's a truly wonderful book and I can't recommend it highly enough.