Grief. Hope. Life. Renewal. There isn’t a single word that can capture what Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees is about. The Secret Life of Bees revolves around teenager Lily Owens, and the void left by her mother’s death as well as her guilt for causing it. It’s already intriguing enough on its own but when you add in the fact that this takes place in the 1960s and involves Lily traveling with her mammy “stand-in-mother”, Rosaleen, I’m a little less intrigued.
As previously mentioned, Lily Owens and Rosaleen Daise are on the run after a confrontation with a trio of racists. After breaking Rosaleen out of a brief stint in jail, they find themselves at The Black Madonna Honey farm where they are given work and refuge by the August Boatwright, the beekeeper. While there, Lily grows closer August, her sisters May, and June while coming closer to finding out more about her mother.
Although the first few chapters were full of tension it was still a little rough to get through. It wasn’t until chapter four where we met the first of the Boatwright sisters did things actually get interesting for me. That’s not to say that important things weren’t happening in the previous chapters. In fact, the inciting incident and much of the backstory occurs within the first four chapters but it’s only after meeting the Boatwright sisters does the story become more lively. Which is what I believe Kidd was trying to accomplish. After all, Lily’s life changes completely after meeting August and her sisters so the writing and feel of the story should change as well.
As for the diversity within this book, yes there are a ton of black people, even more black people than white people. They’re certainly well developed, have their own hopes and storylines but this story isn’t about them. Yes, their struggles are included but they’re all are secondary to Lily. The trauma that April and May felt? Well, that sure is sad but Lily needs to find out about her mother? Old men harassing her Black love interest and his friends who are teenagers? Why doesn’t he just sell his friends out for his own safety?
I think that while this book is an important read for an insight into white privilege. Yes, Lily is a poor white woman who had to deal with an abusive and distant father for most of her life but she still has privilege. While she does use her privilege to get Rosaleen out of jail, she constantly thinks herself as better than, smarter than and more well-mannered than Rosaleen, a woman who may be 30 to 40 years older than her or any of the Boatwright sisters. On more than one occasion, Lily takes it upon herself to think and speak for Rosaleen, continuing to do so even after apologizing to Rosaleen about it.
Reading further I realize that much of the setting and inspiration stems from Sue Monk Kidd and her experiences growing up in the South as the Civil Rights Act was being passed, and as the old adage goes, writers write what they know. Fine, sure. However, I can only hope that non-Black writers, now understand what’s wrong with using segregation, specifically anti-black racism, as a backdrop for a coming-of-age story for a white girl.
As for the rating I give this book, part of me wants to wait until the end of the summer reading series to reveal where it ranks amongst the other books but I know that would be a little unfair. It really is a well-written book with wonderful imagery so for now, I’m going to give this book a 5 out of 10 stars. If you want to check to see if I’ve changed the rating be sure to check back at my new Ratings Master Post Page!
I really want to thank you all for reading and I look forward to seeing what everyone thinks/ thought about The Secret Life of Bees! Be sure to let me know in the comments below!
Until next time everyone,
Happy Summer Reading!