I know, I am way behind the times on this book. The plot is simple with so many delicious layers. We have three narrators: Aibileen Clark, Minnie Jackson, and Skeeter Phelan. The story is set in 1962 Jackson, Mississippi.
Aibileen is a maid, currently working for Elizabeth Leefolt. She has worked for many families over the years, tending to work only for family with small children. Once the children grow to a certain age (she alludes to the time which they start treating her like a black woman), she moves on to the next family. Elizabeth is completely unable to relate to her child Mae Mobley. It breaks Aibileen's heart that the 2 year old is barely touched by her mother.
Skeeter is a childhood friend of Elizabeth. Skeeter comes over once a week to play bridge. As the book opens, Hilly - another childhood friend of both Skeeter and Elizabeth; also, a bit of a queen bee - tells Elizabeth that she simply must install a separate bathroom for Aibileen, due to the "colored diseases" that she carries. Skeeter is taken aback my this, though in 1962 Jackson, it does not behoove her to voice her qualms in this situation. Later in the kitchen, Skeeter asks Aibileen if she ever wishes that things were different. This thought plagues Aibileen.
Skeeter, a young writer, accepts a job at the local newspaper which allows her to develop a relationship with Aibileen by asking for her expertise on cleaning to write the weekly Miss Myrna column. Skeeter eventually asks Aibileen if she would be interested in being interviewed for a book that Skeeter is writing about the black maids who work for white families in the South. Aibileen is terrified to be part of this. She knows the rules of what she, as a black Southern woman can do, if she works on this with Miss Skeeter, it could cost her job, her home, and possibly her life. After Hilly embarrasses Aibileen in a specifically foul way, Aibileen agrees to work with Skeeter.
Minnie is a tougher nut to crack. She is friends with Aibileen. She has recently been fired after refusing to work for Hilly. Minnie hates Hilly and has no intention to work for her. However, Hilly's pull in society makes Minnie's job prospects dismal. Aibileen is able to find Minnie a job with Celia Foote, a poor girl who married rich and is desperately trying to make her way in this society. The relationship with Minnie and Celia is hilarious and charming.
My original thoughts… I really thought it would be a silly book. I do have a bit of fear of very popular books - is it hype or talent? This was talent. The audiobook was amazing. It brought the story to life for me. It was more like listening to a play, than an audiobook. If you are looking for an introductory audiobook, I highly suggest The Help. If you have read The Help, I think its still worth the listen.