The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Also by this author: The Invention of Wings; The Mermaid Chair
Summary: Lily Owens remembers nothing of her mother aside from a hazy recollection of the day she died. Raised by the stand-in-mother, Rosaleen, Lily craves nothing more than the truth about the woman who was her mother. After being arrested for insulting the town’s nastiest racists, Lily springs herself and Rosaleen free of both the law and her abusive father, heading straight to the only link she has to her mother — Tiburon, South Carolina. Here, they find themselves in the home of three black beekeeping sisters, and here Lily finds her niche in the world. In the process of learning the art of beekeeping, Lily also discovers love, faith, and a whole hive of mothers.
Favorite Quote: “And when you get down to it, Lily, that’s the only purpose grand enough for a human life. Not just to love–but to persist in love” (289).
Review: Came for the bees, stayed for the story — I absolutely adored this book. It had me hooked from the beginning, began to break me by page eight, and by the end I was basically a sobbing mess of emotion. Set in South Carolina in 1964, the world of Lily Owens obviously tackles racial tensions ranging from the Civil Rights Act allowing for black voters, all the way back to the oddity of a mixed household. Additionally, each character has their own hurdle to jump, no two the same: Rosaleen is trying to vote, Lily is a white girl living in a black household where no one believes she ought to belong, June is trying to trust again, May wants to keep the weight of the world off her shoulders, and Zach is fighting to be one ass-kicking lawyer. The diversity in their personalities, in the conflicts each individual character faces, was incredible to me. The humanity of it all sucked me in.
On the topic of faith: I’m not a very religious person myself, but I fell in love with Lily’s discovery of and developing relationship with the Boatwright sisters’ Lady of the Chains. The Black Madonna is a critical symbol throughout the story — she is, in a way, the mother of all the women throughout. She’s where Lily draws strength, determination, courage, and love when she otherwise feels as though she has none.
Lily’s voice, too, is beautiful. It’s not the voice of an adult, nor should it be, as she’s only 14, but it accurately portrays her maturity. Sometimes she’s awkward, sometimes she’s a lost little girl, but for the most part she’s introspective, a kid who grew up all too quickly for the world she lives in. Sometimes, the reader is reminded sharply of her age, while others it’s difficult to remember she isn’t another adult woman in the Boatwright household.
I don’t know, the whole thing is just… still so relevant. Racial tensions still exist, child abuse still exists, and above all, a human need to feel loved and accepted still exists. At its core, this book is about a young girl searching for her mother and instead finding a gaggle of them. Lily finds love in this home, with these women, and she uses this to win her independence from the weights she’s carried for the vast majority of her young life.
+ characters, voice, story line, overall message and themes, bees
– nothing I can think of
In Conclusion: This book is a new fave. The characters are relatable, the voice unique, and the plot fascinating. 10/10 would recommend to readers looking for more racial diversity, readers looking for hardcore family feels, contemporary/realistic fiction fans, and/or bee lovers everywhere.