Sue Monk Kidd's ravishing debut novel has stolen the hearts of reviewers and readers alike with its strong, assured voice. I found myself reading Sue Monk Kidd's breathtaking first novel, The Secret Life of Bees, during a season of extraordinary sadness, a time of boundless ache, deep anxiety and creeping distrust.
Honey-sweet but never cloying, this debut by nonfiction author Kidd (The Dance of the Dissident Daughter) features a hive's worth of appealing female characters, an offbeat plot and a lovely style.
Fourteen-year-old Lily and Rosaleen, the black woman who has been Lily's stand-in mother for ten years, take to the road in 1964. This sweeping debut novel, excerpts of which have appeared in Best American Short Stories, tells the tale of a 14-year-old white girl named Lily Owen who is raised by the elderly African American Rosaleen after the accidental death of Lily's mother. Lily Owens, 14, is an emotionally abused white girl living with her cold, uncaring father on a peach farm in rural South Carolina. A wonderfully written debut that rather scants its subject of loss and discovery-a young girl searching for the truth about her dead mother-in favor of a feminist fable celebrating the company of women and the ties between that mothers and daughters. There are moments of real beauty, such as when Lily contemplates life on the banks of a river, following the drowning death of one of the principal characters. This entry was posted in Lending Insight and tagged Civil Rights, Coming of Age, Good Death, Racism, Southern Literature, Sue Monk Kidd, Suicide, The Secret Life of Bees. Set in South Carolina in 1964, The Secret Life of Bees tells the story of Lily Owens, whose life has been shaped around the blurred memory of the afternoon her mother was killed. Enabling JavaScript in your browser will allow you to experience all the features of our site.
Rosaleen is escaping from jail after insulting the town's racists while Lily flees her abusive father and the haunting memory of her mother's violent death. The memory of her mother, who was accidentally killed in Lily's presence when she was four, haunts her constantly. The prose is lapidary, the characters diverse, and the story unusual as it crosses the color line, details worship of a black Virgin Mary, and extensively describes the lives and keeping of bees. In Sue Monk Kidd’s critically acclaimed first novel The Secret Life of Bees, her protagonist, Lily Owens, does so in the midst of the Deep South’s Civil Rights revolt. In her childhood she would imagine them swarming into her room and filling the place with the whirring of their wings. When Lily's fierce-hearted black "stand-in mother," Rosaleen, insults three of the deepest racists in town, Lily decides to spring them both free. In the South in 1964, two companions make a pilgrimage to the home of a trio of bee-keeping sisters. When Lily's fierce-hearted "stand-in mother," Rosaleen, insults three of the town's fiercest racists, Lily decides they should both escape to Tiburon, South Carolina--a town that holds the secret to her mother's past. Fourteen-year-old Lily is on the lam with motherly servant Rosaleen, fleeing both Lily's abusive father T.
They journey to Tiburon, South Carolina, because Lily found the place name on the back of a black Madonna picture among her late mother's possessions. She has one of her mother's few possessions, a picture of a black Madonna with the words, Tiburon, South Carolina, written on the back.
But despite these accomplishments, the fabulist elements (bees as harbingers of death, a statue with healing powers) seem more whimsical than credible and ultimately detract from the story itself. The memory of her mother’s death, which she witnessed, and may have even inadvertently played a part in, is indelibly printed in her mind.


On the road with Rosaleen, they find another house of bees, or, more accurately, a house of bee-keepers: three black women who are largely shunned by the racist white town, and who live, and worship, in highly unconventional ways. As is typical in a coming-of-age story, the initial purpose of Lily’s quest, to find the truth about her parents, eventually becomes secondary to her own personal mission of gaining maturity and the ability to live life on her own terms. There they are taken in by an eccentric trio of black beekeeping sisters who introduce Lily to a mesmerizing world of bees, honey, and the Black Madonna who presides over their household. Lily's companion during her sad childhood has been Rosaleen, the black woman hired to care for her.
Lily Owens, just about to turn 14, narrates this tale set in South Carolina during July 1964. She knows that there is more to the world than the limited confines of her small South Carolina town, with its bigoted locals, and her own abusive and perpetually angry father T.
There is something in Lily’s voice, a fierceness in her character and in her willingness to speak the truth, whatever she might perceive it to be, that is refreshing and original. This is a remarkable story about divine female power and the transforming power of love—a story that women will continue to share and pass on to their daughters for years to come.
Taken in by an eccentric trio of black beekeeping sisters, Lily is introduced to their mesmerizing world of bees and honey, and the Black Madonna.
This is a remarkable story about divine female power and the transforming power of love--a story that women will share and pass on to their daughters for years to come.
Lily is also fleeing memories, particularly her jumbled recollection of how, as a frightened four-year-old, she accidentally shot and killed her mother during a fight with T. There the runaways are sheltered by May, June, and Augusta€”black beekeeping sisters who are also keepers of the truth Lily seeks. Rosaleen, in a euphoric mood after the passing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, goes to town to register to vote and insults one of the town's most racist residents. Since her mother died when she was four, Lily has been raised by African-American Rosaleen and by her sadistic father T.
It takes some time for Lily to go right out and ask them if the women knew her mother, but, when she finally does, it makes for a fascinating and uplifting. This is a remarkable novel about divine female power, a story women will share and pass on to their daughters for years to come.
About the Author:Sue Monk Kidd, author of the highly acclaimed memoirs The Dance of the Dissident Daughter and When the Heart Waits, has won a Poets & Writers award, a Katherine Anne Porter Award, and a Bread Loaf scholarship. After she is beaten up and hospitalized, Lily decides to rescue her and they go to Tiburon to search for memories of her mother.
She receives much needed comfort from her warm and protective black nanny, Rosaleen, who effectively raised her since her mother’s death. Often times, this book strains both credibility, and the willingness of the reader to engage in what many would consider out-and-out schmaltz. Though, as is often the case anyways, you might have to tell and remind yourself to enjoy it in the first place.
Two of her short stories--including an excerpt from The Secret Life of Bees--were selected as notable stories in Best American Short Stories. There they are taken in by three black sisters who are beekeepers producing a line of honey with the Black Madonna label. When Rosaleen is arrested and beaten for trying to vote, Lily springs her from the hospital, and they head to the town of Tiburon because its name is on the back of a cross that belonged to Lily's mother.


But, after Rosaleen registers to vote, and sets off to exercise her franchise for the first time, she is waylaid by some of the racist townsfolk, and is subsequently imprisoned for assault. But there is always emotional intelligence behind the writing, and, even if the story of a white outcast finding a home among accepting black women sounds a little too perfect, as does the outright villainy of her father T.
The Secret Life of Bees was nominated for the prestigious Orange Prize for fiction in England. It turns out that the town is headquarters of Black Madonna Honey, produced by three middle-aged black sisters, August, June and May Boatwright. While racial tensions simmer around them, the women help Lily accept her loss and learn the power of forgiveness. On the front is a picture of a black Madonna who can also be seen on the labels of jars of honey produced in Tiburon by local beekeeper Augusta Boatwright. The way those bees flew, not even looking for a flower, just flying for the feel of the wind, split my heart down its seam." This is how the book begins, and this is how the author transports us into the story.
The "Calendar sisters" take in the fugitives, putting Lily to work in the honey house, where for the first time in years she's happy. There is a wonderful sense of the strength of female friendship and love throughout the story.-Penny Stevens, Andover College, Portland, ME Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Certain the secret to her mother's past lies in Tiburon, Lily persuades Augusta to take them in. Then she busts Rosaleen out of prison, and together they flee into the Carolina hinterlands on the trail of Lily’s mother, based on one cryptic clue scrawled on the back of a framed picture of the Black Madonna, which has hung in Lily’s house since her earliest memories, and which she knows to be one of her mother’s last possessions. But August, clearly the queen bee of the Boatwrights, keeps asking Lily searching questions. The other characters are wise and understanding mother figures, but Lily captures the reader. By summer's end, Lily knows a great deal of bee lore and also findsthe right moment to learn what really happened to her mother.
But Lily is a budding writer, desperate to connect yet fiercely protective of her secret interior life. This novel also is of place and settinga€”the oppressive heat, the swarming bees, the countryside smells, and the pervasive racism are experienced through Kidd's words. Kidd's success at capturing the moody adolescent girl's voice makes her ambivalence comprehensible and charming. And it's deeply satisfying when August teaches Lily to "find the mother in (herself)" a soothing lesson that should charm female readers of all ages.
She lives with her father, a punishing man, and with Rosaleen, Lily's black "stand-in mother," who had worked on the family's peach farm until she was brought inside to take on the newly motherless girl. Rosaleen has been practicing her cursive writing so that she can register to vote, and she has picked herself a candidate to back. It isn't long before Lily and Rosaleen are inducted into their world: "We lived for honey," Lily says.



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