The Secret Life of Bees
by Sue Monk Kidd
Source: Borrowed from Friend
Set in South Carolina in 1964, The Secret Life of Bees tells the story of Lily Owens, whose life has been shaped around the blurred memory of the afternoon her mother was killed. When Lily’s fierce-hearted black “stand-in mother,” Rosaleen, insults three of the deepest racists in town, Lily decides to spring them both free. They escape to Tiburon, South Carolina–a town that holds the secret to her mother’s past. Taken in by an eccentric trio of black beekeeping sisters, Lily is introduced to their mesmerizing world of bees and honey, and the Black Madonna. This is a remarkable novel about divine female power, a story women will share and pass on to their daughters for years to come.
4 of 5 Stars
I was confused by this story for a while, I didn’t really understand where to focus. Quite a few different issues are touched on through the book including racism, child abuse, and neglect, segregation, and more. My heart went out to Lily, the main character, but all too often she frustrated me. Her behavior is frequently impulsive and reactionary based on how she’s feeling in the moment. I understood this but desperately wanted to see her do better somehow in spite of her circumstances. Rosaleen was someone I never really knew how to feel about. She’s such a strong woman but it’s always obvious that she’s been through a lot in life. In some ways, I wish she’d been more of a prominent character, that we could see things through her eyes. All the narration is done through Lily’s eyes and while this gave a very specific viewpoint it also brought out into the open some harmful assumptions. This was the most apparent after the incident involving Rosaleen and the three men in town. In some ways, I did want her to just apologize, much like Lily. I couldn’t help wonder though at what cost to her dignity and self-worth those words would have come.
Speed wise, this was a slower story that I was able to sink into. I’m used to reading faster-paced action but was able to enjoy this just as much but for different reasons. This would be perfect for a book group and even has discussion questions at the back to spark plenty of conversation. Fans of contemporary fiction who are wanting to dip their toes into more historical fiction should take a look at this book. I’m looking forward to watching the movie to see how the two compare.