Saturday 13 November 2010

The Secret Life of Bees: Review

The Secret Life of Bees
By Sue Monk Kidd
Published by Penguin Books
Published in 2002
ISBN: 0-14-200174-0

I found this book at the CSC-Taipei's Official Bookcrossing Zone and I am not being paid for this review.

"Then, without warning, all the immunity wore off, and I felt the hollow, spooned out space between my navel and breastbone begin to ache. The motherless place." (151, TSLOB)

This was, for me, the most heart-rending and accurate lines in a novel that I've ever read. Lily, who accidentally shot her mother in the midst of a domestic between her parents has been living with overwhelming guilt and grief her entire life. Not only this but she has had to tolerate a mean-spirited father whose idea of a fair punishment is to make her kneel on grit for extended periods of time. Lily, as a result is left, un-parented and desperate for love and affection.

She finds this in the least likely of places - she runs away from home after rescuing her coloured maid, Rosaleen, from a certain doom at the hands of a bunch of racist men she insulted. Not knowing where else to go, she heads for a town scribbled on the back of a wooden placard with the photo of a Black Madonna her mother once owned. What she finds are the Boatwright sisters, three coloured women living together who make the brand of honey that bears the mark of the same Black Madonna that Lily clutches in her hand.

This story unfolds in South Carolina in 1964, a time of great racial unrest in America. In theory, segregation had been outlawed but the prejudices still remained deeply entrenched. In stark contrast are August Boatwright's bee hives, where hundreds of bees live in harmony with each other and nature. The symbolism of the hive is strongly drawn upon throughout this novel as Lily struggles to come to terms with her past, her feelings and find her place in the world.

I loved this novel. It is beautifully written, deeply involving and very thoughtfully presented. The symbolism of the hive and the bees was very interesting to me as I felt like I'd learned a lot about bees through reading this. The sisterhood of the Boatwright sisters and their Daughters of Mary friends draws a warm blanket around the shoulders of all those who read this. Nobody is an outsider, all are accepted. I would recommend this novel to all who are looking for a novel that will challenge them uplift them and leave them with something to think about once it is finished. It really is top-notch.


  1. I loved this book, too. I did feel a little bit like Monk Kidd built a lot of tension but then things were resolved very easily. But then I was so hoping that things would end well that I was fine with that.

  2. Lisa,

    Good point - I felt a bit like this too but then read another book which did this far worse so forgot that this annoyed me for this book!