The Secret Life of Bees – Sue Monk Kidd

Lily believes that she killed her mother. She has lived with this since she was a small child, and as now she starts to blossom out into adolescence, she is struck with the desperate need for love from a mother. Her father does not provide her with any love at all. The only love she seems to have is from Rosaleen, the black servant.

However, a young white girl and a black servant’s friendship is going to cause tension in the American South of the mid sixties. When Rosaleen gets arrested and cruelly beaten for nothing other than her skin colour, Lily suddenly realises the sort of world she is living in now, she wants to change it. With Rosaleen and Lily now on the run, they find sanctuary in a place which has been a reference point to Lily in her childhood – the name of a place on the back of a picture of Mary as  Negro which her mother had chosen to keep. 

By chance this image is portrayed on jars of honey and it leads Lily to the pink house and three negro sisters, August, June and May who take in Lily and Rosaleen and teach them about the life of bees. As Lily soon discovers it is very different life to the one she has been used to and the love that she gets from nurturing and learning about bees, the devotion and love of the Daughters of Mary as well as inter-racial friendships are perhaps a rite of passage for her. She can now move forward from the death of her mother in a very changing world.

I really wanted to like this book, but I could not.  I felt that it perhaps did not deal strongly enough with the racial tension and I would have liked to have learnt more about the impact that made, I did not learn anything about this time from this book. I learnt a lot about bee keeping and that was interesting, which I acknowledge, but I felt that at times that over took the real point of the book. Also the over the top worship of the Black Mary was cringe worthy and felt rather cult like at times.

Lily as a narrator was okay, but it would have made a richer read for me if perhaps we could hear Rosaleen or August’s voice. These were strong women who had their own stories to tell and I think they would have made much more interesting reading than Lily’s story. What was excellent was the way the author described the intense heat of the place, the smells and the way the weather changes everything – it added to the mood of the characters very well.

I can tick the book off to say I have read it but it has not really stayed with me and I feel rather disappointed by that.

This was my book club choice for June – I will be reporting back because something makes me think we will have some interesting discussion on it. 

I really wanted to like it and I think if I am honest, I would have given up on the book if it was not for my book club. I have now since read reviews where the word sweet and saccharine comes up frequently – although I ignore the fact that it is perhaps a pun to do with honey I could not agree more. There is something too nice about it and it is if the book does not really want to offend anyone, especially Americans who have to acknowledge that such events that are portrayed in this book actually went on.