Smart, haunted, and motherless, Lily Owens is largely left to her own devices. She is visited, nightly, by a small swarm of bees that mysteriously get into her bedroom. Unbeknownst to her at the time, The Secret Life of Bees that she is thus prompted to ponder soon becomes intimately intertwined with her own dark secrets—and the long-overdue nurturing that will shape her future.
Imagine this: A fourteen-year-old white girl lives with the belief that she killed her mother when she was four years old. Lily remembers the scene, but the particulars are blurred. Her father (who makes her kneel, for hours, on raw grits as punishment for anything) enforces the verdict. Lily hides the only remaining traces she has of her mother (an old photograph, a pair of white gloves, and a strange picture that has “Tiburon, S.C.” stamped on the back), in a box buried in the yard.
Lily’s only friend is Rosaleen, a black woman who comes in to cook and clean for her and her father. Rosaleen is kind and yet fierce, uneducated, without culture, and blatantly honest. The setting is South Carolina, USA, 1964. The Civil Rights bill has just been signed and many white southerners are livid. When the two head into town to get Rosaleen registered to vote, all hell breaks loose (on both fronts), and the girls end up in a cantaloupe truck going in the general direction of Tiburon, where Lily hopes to find evidence that her mother once had a life away from Mr. Owens.
Their ride drops them at the turn-off for Tiburon and they get out to walk the rest of the way. Tired, hungry, and without a clue of what is to become of them, they spend the night by a stream. When they get into town, they stop at a little store for food and Lily almost misses seeing the honey jars sitting there for sale. If she hadn’t noticed them, on the way out the door, she and Rosaleen might never have found the fabulous calendar sisters…where the real magic of this remarkable novel unfolds.
Eccentric beekeepers, the three black sisters take in the two waifs—and Lily begins to discover the power of family, the power of women, the subtle wisdom of bees, and how nice it would be if we could all just “be colorless together.” Folks seem to either fall head over heels in love with this book (as I did), and can’t get it out of their minds, or they grow bored with it and wonder what all the “hubbub” is about. You can’t please everyone.
My recommendation is this: if the first couple of chapters don’t have you feeling that you’ve fallen into a kaleidoscope…where simple words are transformed into spinning, dancing, twinkling things that settle into their sentences lending them a unique twist and making them perk…a kaleidoscope…where the ordinary is wrought into extraordinary, then you might decide yourself to be of the latter group.
For those who do enjoy (even pine over) tales spun like filigree, Sue Monk Kidd delivers.
Jenna Lamia was a superb narrator for this book. Giving every character a unique voice, she consistently captured the melody and pace of the southern drawl. I never tired of her or the story.