The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
South Carolina in 1964 is a place and time of seething racial divides. When violence explodes one summer afternoon, and Rosaleen is arrested and beaten, Lily is desperate, not only to save Rosaleen, but to flee a life she can no longer endure. Calling upon her colorful wits and uncommon daring, she breaks Rosaleen out of jail and the two of them take off, runaway-fugitives conjoined in an escape that quickly turns into Lily’s quest for the truth about her mother’s life. Following a trail left ten years earlier, Lily and Rosaleen end up in the home of three bee-keeping sisters. No ordinary women, the sisters revere a Black Madonna and tend a unique brand of female spirituality that reaches back to the time of slavery. As Lily’s life becomes deeply entwined with theirs, she is irrevocably altered. In a mesmerizing world of bees and honey, amid the strength and power of wise women, Lily journeys through painful secrets and shattering betrayals, finding her way to the single thing her heart longs for most.
From the sweet purple nectar of elderberry honey to the wide-brimmed hats of the neighborhood women, this unexpectedly profound coming-of-age tale is dripping with sweet southern charm, spirituality and unity between an unlikely group of women. Set on in the mid 1960s in South Carolina, author Sue Monk Kidd does a prolific job crafting the story line, creating a subtle rise in both plot and character development AND includes a satisfying plot twist in one of my favorite novels. I just finished listening to the audiobook after reading the hardcover a few years ago. Narrator Jenna Lamia brought Lily Owen’s story to life like no other. Between Kidd’s writing and Lamia’s reading, the imagery is some of the best I’ve ever read. I was right there feeling Lily’s pain as she was forced to kneel on piles of grits father T-Ray inflicted upon her as punishment. I felt the silky spiderweb veil across Lily’s face when she and Zachary were in the woods before their first kiss. The subtle nuances in Lamia’s annunciation were a conduit for Lily’s profound hardships and naiveté. Lily was forced to navigate her new sense of self with guidance from Rosaleen, pseudo-mother on their pilgrimage away from T-Ray to escape the racial divides of South Carolina racial divide. In my typical effort not to spoil the novel’s plot twists, I will keep it vague by just saying that Lily and Rosaleen ‘break away’ from their awful situation and embark on a search to find the origin of the Black Madonna honey that Lily’s late mother loved. They encounter the Boatwright “Calendar Sisters”, August, May, June and their beekeeping business. The Boatwright sisters live in a pink house, keep bees, revere a black Madonna, and open their hearts and souls to taking Lily and Rosaleen under their wing. The relationship that grows between she and her first love, Zachary Lincoln Taylor, is one of my favorite fictional relationships. Lily’s transformation coming into her own was so satisfying to watch. Kidd lets us in to Lily’s inner thoughts, hopes and dreams. Lily comes into her own in such a beautiful way. We see her strong independence rise to the surface. I wanted to cheer for her when she read aloud the letter to T-Ray that “looked like it was written in branding irons”, which was one of the highlights of the novel for me.
A quick word about the movie—sure it was cute, and I absolutely LOVE the way the film was cast. However, the richness and artistry of the author’s writing ability is lost. Feel free to check out this great post from fellow blogger, Jennifer Hart (aka Book Club Girl), who interviewed Sue Monk Kidd about the novel’s film adaptation back in 2008.
What else I found so heartwarming about this book is how perfect the title, Secret Life of Bees is in crafting the perfect metaphor for Lily’s story. It’s the private life Lily, Rosaleen and the Boatwright sisters share within each other- the ups, downs, struggles, victories- are all for the good of the colony. Everyone has a role to play in the big picture and I loved having the opportunity to glimpse into the colony for a bit. Now that June is here, help celebrate National Audiobook Month by checking out your local free resources and download and audiobook today to listen to in traffic, poolside, or at the beach this summer. Speaking of summer, there’s still one week left in our free Summer Giveaway! Click here to enter.
If you like Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, and/or The Help, I can almost guarantee you will adore this novel. I feel like Skeeter is an older version of CeeCee and Lily all rolled into one.
30 down, 22 to go!
In progress- Orange is the New Black
PS- here are some fun facts about bees, courtesy of the Utah Beekeeper’s Association:
- The queen may lay 600-800 or even 1,500 eggs each day during her 3 or 4 year lifetime. This daily egg production may equal her own weight. She is constantly fed and groomed by attendant worker bees.
- Honey bees fly at 15 miles per hour.
- Honey bees’ wings stroke 11,400 times per minute, thus making their distinctive buzz.
- Honeybees are the only insect that produce food for humans.
- Honeybees will usually travel approximately 3 miles from their hive.
- Honeybees are the only bees that die after they sting.
- Honeybees are responsible for pollinating approx 80% of all fruit, vegetable and seed crops in the U.S.
- Honeybees have five eyes, 3 small ones on top of the head and two big ones in front. They also have hair on their eyes!
- Bees communicate with each other by dancing and by using pheromones (scents).
- Honeybees never sleep!