The Secret Life of Bees, written by Sue Monk Kidd, is set in South Carolina in 1964. It follows the somewhat unfortunate life of Lily Owens, who believes she accidently killed her mother when she was four years old. Since her mother’s death she has had to live with her strict and at times neglectful father, who punishes her for small misdemeanours with gruesome techniques. After Lily’s black “stand-in mother” Rosaleen insults three deep-rooted racists when she attempts to register to vote, they run away in search of the secrets of Lily’s mother’s past. They arrive in Tiburon, South Carolina and are taken in by three black beekeeping sisters who introduce them to the world of bees and honey and where Lily finally finds out the truth about her mother.
I struggled somewhat to get through this book, as it was written rather childishly (the protagonist being 14 years old) but the story itself was satisfactory. It definitely focuses on the ‘coming of age’ theme as you follow Lily to Tiburon and her experiences there. Looking beyond however, there are a number of deeper issues relating to the history at the time and strong prejudices are apparent. Some were quite confronting, and it was interesting to read about the strong racial tensions at the time.
However, overall the book didn’t really want to make me keep reading; it was interesting, but not thrilling. That being said, it certainly did give you a ‘warm and fuzzy’ feeling when you had finished. There are a number of strong female characters, but it was disappointing that there was not really a male equivalent, and therefore males may not relate to the book as well as some females might. The Secret Life of Bees also takes a strong feminist view, and is very much about Lily’s faith, self-acceptance and freedom. I must say though that I agree with Mark Flanagan from About.com in feeling that the book was at times “too sweet like the honey from the bees.”
Overall I give The Secret Life of Bees 5 out of 10.