South Carolina, 1964. Lily Owens, a girl of fourteen haunted by the belief that she accidentally killed her mother when she was four, decides to leave the peach plantation where she lives with her hateful father and run away with her black maid Rosaleen after she is put in jail for getting into trouble with a gang of the most racist men in town.
Following the Tiburon, South Carolina, inscription on a picture of a black Virgin Mary left at the house by her mother all those years ago, Lily and Rosaleen end up lodging and helping out on a bee farm kept by the Boatwright sisters. But Lily isn’t quite ready to reveal who she really is, afraid her father might come and take her home or that the police will take Rosaleen away, or to ask the questions she wants about her mother afraid of what truth the answers may hold. Slowly they settle in to life at the bee farm and establish a relationship with the black community in Tiburon. But Lily knows that sooner or later she will have to come clean.
The Secret Life Of Bees is a tender coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of the racial tensions during the civil rights movement. What struck me most about this book is how simply such a delicate matter is treated throughout the whole narrative. The style and the language perfectly reflect the innocence of a child and her view of the racial equality issues of the time. The authorities in Tiburon find it strange that a white girl feels no shame in living in a house full of black women. But, of course, to someone as young who has lived her entire life with a white man who should love her instead of being cruel and mistreating her a house full of people who are kind and cherish her is a safe haven, regardless of the colour of their skin.
I think of The Secret Life of Bees as the children’s version of The Help by Kathryn Stockett. I really enjoyed reading it. It made me happy, it made me really sad. I was hooked. It is easy to read and explores the psyche of a young girl who has sadly had to endure too much hardship in her short life. It portrays the complexities of teenage emotions and takes you on a rollercoaster ride as Lily slowly starts finding out the hard truth about the last months of her mother’s life and how one life can touch so many others. With its tenderness and simplicity Sue Monk Kidd has created a remarkable blend of love, sorrow, confusion and, above all else, acceptance.
The Secret Life of Bees was made into a film in 2008, starring Dakota Fanning as Lily Owens.