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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.
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.
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. 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. 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. 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.
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. 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.




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