The Secret Life of Bees - by Sue Monk Kidd
The Secret Life of Bees

"a fast read with believable characters and an incredible plot"

        Most novels written about growing up in the poor, rural South are the same. The kid has a tough childhood, grows up and finds him or herself in an unexpected way, and finally overcomes hardship by working to achieve his or her goals. The novel The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd is different. In this page-turner we read raw emotions that anyone who’s had family problems can relate too. Among the themes woven into this novel is the ever-popular issue of racism. Kidd uses the main character, Lily Owens, to convince the reader that racism can be overcome.  She also does a great job of portraying both black and white characters outside of their stereotypes. She illustrates the Boatwright sisters, who take Lily in after she runs away, as the most cultured people Lily has ever met.

    In several events throughout the book Sue Monk Kidd shows the irrationality of racism and how it leads to hurt and destruction. Another important theme in the novel is the power and community of womanhood. Lily’s mother died when she was a young child, so she longs for a mother figure. However, because of her housekeeper, Rosaleen, and the Boatwrights Lily finds that even without a mother she has strong and beautiful women to admire and aspire to be. Not only do they give her someone to look up too, but also they help Lily to find herself and discover what is truly important in life. When Lily discovers secrets from her mother’s past, she becomes more than she ever thought possible and overcomes major heartache and trouble.

    This book is an amazing mother-daughter read that would make you appreciate the importance of your mother all she does. Sue Monk Kidd uses creative metaphors and similes that catch your attention and give you the feeling of the actual experience. The way she can compare the simple pleasure of emptying your bladder to the excitement of sex shows her extreme, yet exact, perception of life’s amazing occurrences. Also, the metaphor on which the entire book is built is how Lily compares the secret life she’s living at the Boatwrights to the unknown life of bees. She states, “I loved the idea of bees having a secret life, just like the one I was living.” The tempo of the novel is quick and to the point, which makes it an enjoyably fast read with believable characters and an incredible plot.

    I would recommend this book to any women or teenage girls, who are obviously the intended audience. I could not put this book down once I started; I just had to see what happened next. Sue Monk Kidd successfully writes a beautiful coming -of-age story where Lily not only grows emotionally, but physically and sexually. The thing I loved most about the book was its originality. Most of the characters are lovable and even the ones you don’t like, you still feel sorry for them. There are no slow parts in the novel; it is consistent from beginning to end and it will make you laugh, cry, and because of the amazing detail, you will feel as if you are actually in the novel.

   - Callie D.

"bees as a metaphor for female society"

            A heart-wrenching novel, rich with figurative language and colorful phrases, The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd captures and holds the reader’s attention.  Set in South Carolina in 1964, it tells the story of fourteen year old Lily Owen’s quest to find out about her mother.  Raised by her father since the death of her mother when she was four, Lily longs to separate herself from her inattentive and abusive father, T-Ray. A picture of a black Mary with “Tiburon, South Carolina” written on the back is one of the few items Lily owns which associate with her dead mother. When Lily’s Negro housekeeper Rosaleen gets in trouble by spitting snuff on the shoes of a cruel, racist man in town, Lily breaks her out of jail, and they flee to Tiburon in hopes of finding out about Lily’s mother.  The two fugitives are taken in by the three black Boatwright sisters.  The sisters raise bees and make honey for a living, and the rest of the story tells of Lily’s acceptance into a black community, and her quest to find out who she truly is.
            Kidd’s style is simple and easy to read; it does contain a few curse words scattered throughout.  Written with a down to earth, personal tone, I found myself drawn into the characters’ lives and stories.  Lily is only fourteen years old, and yet she carries problems and heartaches that most adults have not experienced.  Despite all this, Lily faces her past and moves on with her life with strength and love, making her character powerful and enticing.  The diction is regional, with typical southern phrases like “God-help-me-Jesus.”  May, the youngest of the three sisters, gets upset easily and always sings “Oh! Susanna” to ward off sorrow and depression.  The entire story is a metaphor based on female society and the importance of mothers.  Lily helps the Boatwright sisters with their bees, and she finds out the key role of the “Queen Bee” and how a colony will suffer if she dies.  The Boatwrights also introduce Lily to Mary, the mother of Jesus, as the center of all praise and worship.  Mary is another example of a female figure portrayed as the comforter and protector of all who need her.  Lily learns that she must rely on Mary as her mother. 

           While living with the Boatwrights in Tiburnon, Lily falls in love with a black boy named Zach who helps out with the bees.  Relationships, no matter what color the people are, play a huge part in the story.  Lily and the middle sister, June, must find a way to work things out between them, and Lily truly loves Zach although he is of a different race. Because it deals with the theme of female society, and the power of mothers, I believe this novel is aimed mostly at girls and women. It is written extremely well, and I highly recommend it!

   - Cecilia P.

"captivating story of racism and respect"

        In this day and age books written for the young adult audience vary little and usually include the controversial topics of sex, drugs, and angst. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd is a breath of fresh air any generation would be glad to take. The novel does contain uncomfortable topics, such as discrimination and racism, but this only contributes to the development of the plot and is in no way offensive.

       In small town South Carolina in the 1960’s. Lily, a fourteen-year-old girl without a mother, is brought up by her father, T.Ray, and Rosaleen, an African-American servant turned nanny. As the Civil Rights Act is passed, Lily and Rosaleen not only find themselves in trouble with the law but also find information concerning Lily’s mother’s death that Lily can hardly believe. The two set out on a journey to escape from the law, T.Ray, and the harsh reality of society. They wind up at the Pepto-Bismol-colored home of May, June, and August Boatwright, three eccentric African American women who keep bees and sell honey with a picture of a black Virgin Mary pasted on the label. Lily feels drawn there by some strange force, and immediately falls not only into a routine with the sisters, but falls in love with each of them and their personalities as well.

    The novel is told from the heart and soul of Lily, as she describes her emotions and experiences at the Boatwright home. She tells of her respect for the bees that August taught her, her curiosity about the boy that helps keep the bees, and her fascination with a certain Black Madonna that was "strong and constant and had a mother’s heart."  The author captures this harsh and cruel concept of the racism of the 60’s through the eyes of a fourteen-year-old perfectly.

      Kidd includes interesting, informative facts about bees at the beginning of each chapter. Resources such as Bees of The World and Man and Insects are used to introduce the themes of each new part of the book.

    Kidd captivates the audience with detailed descriptions of the trials and tribulations that Lily overcomes. This book is incredible, and a valuable asset to any library. Teens of any age, race, or social group can enjoy this book without having to analyze each event and happening. I highly recommend The Secret Life of Bees.

"Sue Monk Kidd creates characters you will never forget."

     The Secret Life of Bees is a moving novel that is one of my favorites. The story is of Lily, a young girl growing up in the sixties. Lily goes through trials and triumphs all the while trying to find the secrets of her mother’s past. The novel shows the greatness of female power and displays what it means to grow up. It's easy to read, and although it is long, I appreciated the length because it was so enjoyable.

     I never got bored, and I really liked Lily’s character and how she relates to me as well as most teenage girls searching for the meaning of life. One thing Lily learns is that everyone is equal, despite skin color. She also learns that a family can be anywhere and with anyone, as long as it is with people you love. Lily matures and grows up throughout the book. Along with learning about life in general, she learns about love. She falls in love with a boy and learns to love the new family she has stumbled upon.

     This novel is one of my all time favorites because the story is unique and touching. The way it turns out is genius; Sue Monk Kidd is an amazing writer. She creates characters you will never forget. The characters remind me of people I have in my own life. Because of Sue Monk Kidd’s excellent writing style, I felt like I knew Lily personally after I finished the book and her story really touched my heart.  I strongly recommend this book because it perfectly combines romance with a wonderful story, and priceless lessons about life.

   - Morgan B.