The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd is a very heartfelt and touching coming of age story centered around fourteen year old Lily Owens in 1964 South Carolina. When Lily walks into town with her strong-willed black “stand-in mother” Rosaleen, a series of events unravel changing Lily’s and Rosaleen’s life. When Rosaleen stands up to the three of the worst racists in the town on her way to register to vote, Rosaleen is arrested while Lily is sent home to her abusive father. Deciding that their lives need a change, Lily manages to run-away with Rosaleen and head to the Tiburon, South Carolina, where Lily hopes to learn more about her mother. There is a touching line shortly before Lily runs away. When returning home from jail, waiting for her father, she sees that the bees she had been collecting in a glass jar had finally flown away, they took back their freedom. Looking at this empty jar, Lily thinks to herself,
‘You could say I’d never had a true religious moment, the kind where you know yourself spoken to by a voice that seems other than yourself, spoken to so genuinely you see the words shining on trees and clouds. But I had such a moment right then, standing in my own ordinary room. I heard a voice say, Lily Melissa Owens, your jar is open.” (p41)
All Lily has of her mother is a blurred memory of the day she died, a picture of her mother, and a picture of a black Mary with Tiburon, S.C. written on the back. As fate would have it, Lily and Rosaleen move in with three eccentric and friendly black beekeeping sisters, makers of the Black Madonna Honey that adorns a label of the black Mary exactly like the one Lily found with her mother’s belongings.
Kidd had a strong variety of themes running through the novel; social commentary on racism in the south, religious themes from the slightly unorthodox religious views of the Daughter’s of Mary group, and also there are themes of love, and of forgiveness. Kidd manages to weave all these themes together to create a story that any reader can relate to. Each chapter begins with a short sentence on bees, their social life and the entire bee structure, how they work, how they stay together. Kidd manages to weave in each commentary on bee into the chapter. The story is about Lily coming of age and learning about her mother, so Lily gets the most attention in the novel. The supporting characters are set as one-dimensional backdrops to Lily’s acceptance of herself and her realizations about life and how she is living her life. On some level it works, because the story is about Lily’s transformation, not about June or August, or even Rosaleen. Other times, it doesn’t work because the supporting characters are set up to be eccentric, strong-willed and should have had more of a force in the book than they did. Even Rosaleen loses most of her presence in the novel. Rosaleen’s character is pretty much neglected once the Boatwright sisters come into the picture. Lily is constantly looking for a mother figure, and she transferred that role from Rosaleen to August almost instantly moving into the house.
There is a high demand for this title at my library, and it seems we can never keep a copy on the shelf. I’m wondering if other places are having this same issue. To do my part, I’d like to giveaway my copy of this book. If you are interested in receiving this title, simply leave a comment on this post, or any following post by Sunday August 24th, and I’ll hold a raffle to choose the winner. You’ll get one entry for each comment and an extra entry if you blog about this giveaway on your blog/website.
FINAL GRADE: B+The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd Penguin Group, 2002 ISBN 0142001740 302 pages ***************