The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

1964, South Carolina. Lily Owens lives with her abusive father, T. Ray and her ‘nanny’ Rosaleen – a black worker plucked from T.Ray’s peach farm. Lily has ambitions to be a writer but is spending her summer sitting by the side of the highway selling peaches. Lily is carrying a hazy memory of the day her mother died. On the peach farm she has buried the only remaining possessions she has of her mother, including an intriguing picture of black Mary.

Rosaleen has spent her time practising her handwriting so she can sign her own name when she registers to vote for the first time. However, on the journey to register, Rosaleen and Lily encounter some white racist thugs. Lily wants to keep her head down, Rosaleen spits on them. They end up in jail, then in hospital under armed guard, when Lily chooses to spring Rosaleen from the hospital and the two go on the run, eventually stopping on a bee farm in Tiburon, South Carolina.

Despite the youth of our protagonist, Lily, this is not just YA fiction. It explores Lily’s need to understand what happened to her mother, perhaps even to forgive her father for his abusive behaviour; it addresses the concept of memory and its reliability. The Secret Life of Bees also explores issues of racial equality (or lack of) in 1960s America and the power of women.

Throughout the text, Kidd has developed believable characters who each have their own personal battles and concerns; however, the undercurrent of racial tension is constant. The strength of faith and of matriarchy are powerful themes portrayed through the statue of Mary and the character of August.

When I was handed this book, I really didn’t think it was the kind of book that I’d like. However, it was a lovely read; a well-written book with characters I cared about. Although I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about the ending, The Secret Life of Bees is a good summer read that I’d recommend to people.


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The Help – Kathryn Stockett
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

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