Living on a peach farm in South Carolina with her harsh, unyielding father, Lily Owens has shaped her entire life around one devastating, blurred memory- the afternoon her mother was killed when Lily was four. Since then, her only real companion has been the fierce-hearted, and sometimes just fierce, black woman Rosaleen, who acts as her “stand-in mother.”
When Rosaleen insults three of the deepest racists in town, Lily knows it’s time to spring them both free. They take off in the only direction Lily can think of, toward a town called Tiburon, South Carolina- a name she found on the back of a picture amid the few possessions left by her mother.
There they are taken in by an eccentric trio of black beekeeping sisters named May, June, and August. Lily thinks of them as the calendar sisters and enters their mesmerizing secret world of bees and honey and of the Black Madonna who presides over this household of strong, wise women. Maternal loss and betrayal, guilt and forgiveness entwine in a story that leads Lily to the single thing her heart longs for most.
The Secret Life of Bees has a rare wisdom about life- about mothers and daughters and the women in our lives who become our true mothers. A remarkable story about the divine power of women and the transforming power of love, this is a stunning debut whose rich, assured, irresistible voice gathers us up and doesn’t let go, not for a moment. It is the kind of novel that women share with each other and that mothers will hand down to their daughters for years to come.
This book was suggested to me by a few of my friends after they heard how much I loved Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman. Another southern fiction novel, I found this to be excellent summer reading! I took my time with it as my summer schedule has been out of control thus far. It seems like I haven’t had much time to sit and read, but I did take this book with me when I traveled (just in case there WAS an extra minute or two).
Sue Monk Kidd’s storytelling is so rich that the reader is constantly enticed and interested. Not once did I find myself trying to figure out what would happen, rather I let Kidd tell the story and I enjoyed every word. I loved the diversity in the relationships Lily shares with all the characters (her rough and unrelenting father, T. Ray, her loving friend and mother figure Rosaleen, the caretaker relationship with August, the forbidden and complicated attraction to Zach). There are two other Boatwright sisters: May, the troubled sister who keeps a wailing wall outside the house to release her anguish and June, the hardheaded, skeptical sister.
There’s something about a southern fiction story that is so comforting. Maybe it’s the southern charm, the hospitality, or the history that comes with the surroundings. Whatever it is, it makes me want to sit on a porch with some sweet tea and share lunch with new friends. The way these three Boatwright sisters take in Lily and Rosaleen is inspiring and endearing. Lily is a strong minded teenage girl who longs to be loved and feel wanted and protected. It’s easy to root for her and sympathize with her throughout her journey. I applaud Sue Monk Kidd for the complex and intriguing character development!
This debut novel charmed the pants off of my expectations. I am looking forward to seeing the movie this week as some girlfriends and I already have a movie date lined up! It will be interesting to see the interpretation of the story once Hollywood got a hold of it 🙂
If you haven’t already read this novel (or seen the movie) I encourage you to pick it up. And as a side bonus, you’ll learn trivia about honeybees and the beekeeping world. 🙂
Happy Summer Reading,
The queen, for her part, is the unifying force of the community; if she is removed from the hive, the workers very quickly sense her absence. After a few hours, or even less, they show unmistakable signs of queenlessness. ~ Man and Insects (The Secret Life of Bees, Chapter 1)