We had this book for book group this month and I’m so glad we did otherwise I would not have discovered such a gem of a book! I borrowed this from our book group reader to read quickly and I finished it in two nights because I loved the story and was riveted. Sadly I didn’t manage to get to book group this month due to an post-operative convalescent arriving in the next day or two.
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
Lily Owens is a fourteen year old girl living in the Deep South in the early 1960s when race was very much an issue in everyday life. She lives with her cruel father, T.Ray, and is cared for by a black maid, Rosaleen. She has a difficult life, ridiculed by her school mates and forced to work on her father’s peach stand when she isn’t at school. Although, she is a very talented student, she can only ever see herself going to beauty school rather than to college and making something of her life like her teacher thinks she ought.
Lily’s mother has been killed in a tragic accident which Lily can’t remember too much of the detail of but it is clear that when Lily was four she had accidentally killed her mother with a gun she picked up when her parents were arguing. T.Ray has been angry for years and has been cruel to Lily. Lily really wanted her father to love her so she finds life very difficult when he seems cruel and unkind all the time.
Lily goes with Rosaleen when she goes to register so she can vote but falls into trouble when Rosaleen antagonises some white men. Unfortunately, one of the men is a particularly vehement hater of blacks and is determined to get his revenge and both Lily and Rosaleen are arrested. T.Ray comes to fetch his daughter but leaves Rosaleen behind. It is when they arrive home that he tells Lily that the person Rosaleen upset most would most likely kill her and Lily decides to spring Rosaleen from jail and run away.
There are few reminders of Lily’s mother in the house and she hides away what she has found which include a Black Madonna picture with Waldron, South Carolina written on the back. Lily decides that she and Rosaleen will run away to Tiburon and see what can be found out about her mother.
They arrive in Tiburon and it is by accident that Lily sees the picture of the Black Madonna on a jar of honey and upon asking around, they are directed to a honey farm kept by the Boatwright sisters who agree the two of them can stay for a while after hearing Lily’s cover story that she is an orphan and she and Rosaleen are on their way to her aunt’s house. It is unusual situation as the Boatwrights are black and Lily is the only white person. Lily is taught the art of bee-keeping and longs to tell August, the elder sister, her secret and ask about the Black Madonna that was in her mother’s belongings.
It is a brilliant book set in a time period when there is still serious prejudice in the US and really captures the feeling of the time really well.
It is quite a journey and I couldn’t put it down. It is one of the best books I’ve read this year!