Fiction – paperback; Penguin; 336 pages; 2003.
Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees is a gorgeous, heart-warming coming-of-age story that lives up to the hype.
Set in 1964 during the Civil Rights movement, this delightful tale is about one girl’s search for her (long dead) mother.
At 14 years old Lily Owens does not know much about life. Nor does she know much about her mother whom died in an accident when Lily was just four.
But as life on a South Carolina peach farm becomes more trying and her father’s behaviour more deplorable (Lily detests him so much she cannot ever bring herself to call him Daddy), Lily takes things into her own hands and embarks on an exciting, yet dangerous, adventure.
It begins when her African-American “nanny” come housekeeper, Rosaleen, is attacked by three racists on her way to register to vote for the first time. In a strange and cruel twist of fate Rosaleen is thrown into jail, where an outraged (and brave) Lily rescues her. Together the two of them flee the law and end up in Tiburon, South Carolina, the destination scrawled on the back of Lily’s only memento of her mother, a picture of a black Virgin Mary.
In Tiburon, the pair of them are taken in by three black bee-keeping sisters. Here, in the safe arms of three proud women, Lily learns the truth about her mother and the healing, recuperative power of love.
The Secret Life of Bees is a painful coming-of-age story, but it is also remarkably uplifting and I would recommend it to even the most hardened reader. I enjoyed the wonderful writing and the sense of family that Monk Kidd creates. The characters are amazingly rich and well-drawn and also quite believable. My only quibble is the extraordinary amount of coincidences in the story, but I guess they were needed to make the book “work”.
But all in all this is a delightful, refreshing read.