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The Secret Life of Bees book cover (image)

Book Review: The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

Reviewed by Yvonne Schneider, Books n Treasures in Show Low

The Secret Life of Bees is the first novel written by Sue Monk Kidd. She has also written two acclaimed memoirs, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, and When the Heart Waits.

In the beginning of the book we meet Lily Owens, a 14 year old girl living on a peach farm outside Sylvan South Carolina, in the summer of 1964.  At night she is lying in bed watching bees squeeze through cracks in her bedroom wall. They fly around the room making the buzzing sound, their “wings shining like bits of chrome in the dark”.  But why are they here? They lap around her body and she runs to her daddy’s room—who she calls T. Ray. When they return to her room they have disappeared and T. Ray is mad because Lily woke him up for nothing.  It is misery for Lily living with T. Ray. He works in the peach orchards all day, especially in the summer. She stays out of his way whenever she can. Lily’s mom died in 1964 and a black lady named Rosaleen has taken care of her ever since. Her memory of her mother was in her room with a suitcase open on the bed. The furnace is on high so it is very hot. She is moving in and out of the closet dropping items into her suitcase.  T. Ray is coming up the stairs and they start arguing and T. Ray shoves Lily toward the door to leave. Her mother shouts at him to leave her alone and grabs something on the shelf. Lily sees the gun in her hand and her father snatches it away and it falls to the ground. She remembers bending to pick it up and a horrible noise. “That is what I know about myself. She was all I wanted. And I took her away.”

During 1964 the President signs the Civil Rights Act into law. Rosaleen goes to town to register to vote and Lily goes along. When Rosaleen gets put into jail for her reaction to racism, Lily decides they need to leave. She has had enough of her abuse from T. Ray and needs to get Rosaleen out of jail. They head down the road to Tiburon because Lily found that name on the back of a picture with some other of her mother’s items up in the attic.

I found the book to be a tender and intense story about bees, people of any color and a girl coming to terms with them.

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