19 May 2007

Book Review: The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

New Year’s Reading Resolutions #11

The Secret Life of Bees At the age of four, Lily Owens accidentally caused her mother’s death. Ten years later, she’s stifled by life with her harsh father T. Ray and receives her only affection from their black servant Rosaleen. When the Civil Rights Act is passed into law Rosaleen decides to register to vote, and when some local rednecks hassle her it’s Rosaleen who gets arrested. Faced by T. Ray’s wrath and the knowledge that Rosaleen’s continued defiance could well get her killed, Lily runs away - and takes Rosaleen with her. Running from the law, Lily goes in search of her mother’s past, heading for the town whose name is written on one of her few mementos: Tiburon, South Carolina. There they find their way to the home of the beekeeping Boatwright sisters: softhearted May, cool June, and August, who shares with Lily her wisdom regarding both bees and life.

Filled with guilt over her lies, and unaccustomed to being, with her white skin, in the minority, Lily nevertheless begins to settle into life in the pink house. Watched over by Rosaleen, the sisters, and their fellow Daughters of Mary, she faces up to prejudices she never knew she had and finds the happiness and acceptance she never got at home. She also comes closer to understanding not only her mother, but her father as well.

I can see why this book has been so popular and rather regret having left it unread in my library pile for weeks. With a few obvious exceptions the characters were all greatly likeable and I spent several happy train journeys with smiles on my face or tears in my eyes. August in particular was wonderful; it’s a shame everyone can’t know an August. Lily won me over with her ability to hope and I was thrilled to see June, hurt by one man and determined never to give another the same chance, finally decide to grab hold of life. There was also some interesting information in there on beekeeping; it’s and unusual topic so there was a lot I didn’t know about the practice and history of apiary. And it was good to see that, after believing her mother to be perfect and her father the villain, Lily discovered that neither was wholly either and the truth wasn’t black-and-white but more complex and real.

What was a mystery to Lily wasn’t much of a mystery to me, however; I saw nearly clear through it at once. Several other things, too, I saw coming a mile away. But I closed the book with a smile, feeling all warm and fuzzy and very glad that I had gone outside my normal reading range to visit 1960s America.

Rating: B+


Framed said...

Thanks for your review. I read this book several years ago and it was good to be reminded of it. I really enjoyed it as well.

Anonymous said...

I read The Mermaid Chair and really liked it, so I had high hopes for The Secret Life of Bees. It was good, but I still came away feeling like something was unresolved. I just can't put my finger on what it was.


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Header image shows detail of A Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, c. 1776