The Secret Life Of Bees

November 16, 2008

Realistic Fiction
By Sue Monk Kidd
Reviewed by Tiffani Williamson
5 out of 5 Stars

A beautifully written treasure of life truths and truths that appear only after much suffering and soul-searching ,this is simply the first great novel from Sue Monk Kid. The Secret Life of Bees is the story of a teenager, Lily Owens, also known as Lily Williams, who must come to terms with the truth about her dead mother, set against the backdrop of the Civil Rights movement in 1964 South Carolina. Lily’s life has been consumed in dreams about her mother. Lily’s father, whom she calls T. Ray because daddy doesn’t fit him with his cruel, even distant ways, tells Lily that she is responsible for her mother’s death.

Lily’s black nanny, Rosaleen, is intent on registering to vote but after getting into a scuffle with some of the most violent racists in their South Carolina town, she is arrested. Lily and Rosaleen flee, after escaping from the authorities: Lily in search of information about her mother, and Rosaleen to get away from injustice. In Tiburon, South Carolina, Lily finds her way to the pink house of the calendar sisters: August, June, and May, and she finds herself immersed in the secret world of a delicate art, beekeeping. Lily learns that the mother she always imagined never existed, but after learning some difficult truths she discovers that sometimes you may find a mother, even more than one mother, in places where you least expect through her relationships with these loving black women, especially August.

Kidd uses the every day language of teenagers in a simple, yet still in a poetic way so that we can hear the voice of Lily and, at the same time, hear the truth of her hard-learned lessons. There is wisdom and innocence in Lily’s narration. The characterizations of Lily, Zach, the young black man who captures Lily’s heart, T. Ray, and Rosaleen, echo to true life. Not overdrawn, nor overly melodramatic, these are people we have witnessed in our own lives in one form or another. August Boatwright is the mother-friend that all growing girls wished they had. Her love and her wisdom are the driving force in this story. Wherever love is, that is family, and that is home. I believe this is a lesson that everyone needs to learn, or at least be reminded of.

For anyone who needs to find forgiveness, whom has felt disappointed by the truth about their families or friends, or anyone who needs to be reminded about just being alive, and the joy of it, The Secret Life of Bees will be a treasure you will never forget.

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