"The Secret Life of Bees," by Sue Monk Kidd, starts out during the summer of 1964, in South Carolina at the height of the civil rights movement. The main character, Lily Owens, is a fourteen year old white girl that lives with her father and her black nanny, Rosaleen. Lily has spent the last ten years of her life wondering about her mother whom she accidentally killed when she was four.
Two years previous to this summer, Lily found a paper bag in her attic that contained several things that belonged to her mother. Inside the bag was a picture of her mother in front of an old car, an old pair of white cotton gloves, and a picture of a black skinned Mary on a piece of wood with the words "Tiburon, S.C." written on the back. For two years Lily keeps these things buried in the peach orchard her father owns, hidden from her father. The picture of the black Mary turns out to be a life changing thing for Lily.
In July of Lily's fourteenth year, she accompanies Rosaleen to town. The president had just recently signed a law that allowed black people the right to vote, and Rosaleen intended to go register. En route to the registration, Rosaleen ends up getting arrested for "assualting" three white men, who happen to be the worst racists in the town of Sylvan, SC. While in jail, one of the men brutally beats her and she is taken to the hospital.
Lily decides this is the chance she has waited for to escape her abusive father and go to Tiburon to learn about her mother, so she springs Rosaleen from the hospital and they hitch a ride to Tiburon.
In Tiburon, Lily spots a jar of honey with the same picture of the black Mary on it, and it leads her and Rosaleen to the house of the Boatwright sisters. They are a local family of three black women who raise bees for honey.
Staying at this house, Lily goes through a lot of emotional changes and ends up finding out about her mother and what had lead up to her death. She grows up in so many ways that summer, as she learns to be honest to herself and to others, and deals with racism and more death.
I was really happy with this story and the way that it ended. I thought the use of the bees through out the story was really quite interesting, as it tied everything together in a very creative way.
My favorite part of the whole story is Lily's blooming relationship with Zack, the black boy that helps with the bees. I loved that the author had that in there, as people where killed for that sort of thing at that time in history. It struck a personal chord with me, as I am a white woman and my husband is black, so I know what racism feels like now. And yes, racism is still alive, especially in the south.
I also thought the writing style was very candid and to the point, which I really appreciate in a novel. I sometimes tire of a lot of drawn out fluffy writing, that just fills pages for the sake of filling pages.
This book is definitely a must read, and I am looking forward to seeing the movie when it comes out. Hopefully it will follow the book.