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The Secret Life of Bees Paperback – January 28, 2003
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In Sue Monk Kidd's The Secret Life of Bees, 14-year-old Lily Owen, neglected by her father and isolated on their Georgia peach farm, spends hours imagining a blissful infancy when she was loved and nurtured by her mother, Deborah, whom she barely remembers. These consoling fantasies are her heart's answer to the family story that as a child, in unclear circumstances, Lily accidentally shot and killed her mother. All Lily has left of Deborah is a strange image of a Black Madonna, with the words "Tiburon, South Carolina" scrawled on the back. The search for a mother, and the need to mother oneself, are crucial elements in this well-written coming-of-age story set in the early 1960s against a background of racial violence and unrest. When Lily's beloved nanny, Rosaleen, manages to insult a group of angry white men on her way to register to vote and has to skip town, Lily takes the opportunity to go with her, fleeing to the only place she can think of--Tiburon, South Carolina--determined to find out more about her dead mother. Although the plot threads are too neatly trimmed, The Secret Life of Bees is a carefully crafted novel with an inspired depiction of character. The legend of the Black Madonna and the brave, kind, peculiar women who perpetuate Lily's story dominate the second half of the book, placing Kidd's debut novel squarely in the honored tradition of the Southern Gothic. --Regina Marler --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Honey-sweet but never cloying, this debut by nonfiction author Kidd (The Dance of the Dissident Daughter) features a hive's worth of appealing female characters, an offbeat plot and a lovely style. It's 1964, the year of the Civil Rights Act, in Sylvan, S.C. Fourteen-year-old Lily is on the lam with motherly servant Rosaleen, fleeing both Lily's abusive father T. Ray and the police who battered Rosaleen for defending her new right to vote. Lily is also fleeing memories, particularly her jumbled recollection of how, as a frightened four-year-old, she accidentally shot and killed her mother during a fight with T. Ray. Among her mother's possessions, Lily finds a picture of a black Virgin Mary with "Tiburon, S.C." on the back so, blindly, she and Rosaleen head there. It turns out that the town is headquarters of Black Madonna Honey, produced by three middle-aged black sisters, August, June and May Boatwright. The "Calendar sisters" take in the fugitives, putting Lily to work in the honey house, where for the first time in years she's happy. But August, clearly the queen bee of the Boatwrights, keeps asking Lily searching questions. Faced with so ideally maternal a figure as August, most girls would babble uncontrollably. But Lily is a budding writer, desperate to connect yet fiercely protective of her secret interior life. Kidd's success at capturing the moody adolescent girl's voice makes her ambivalence comprehensible and charming. And it's deeply satisfying when August teaches Lily to "find the mother in (herself)" a soothing lesson that should charm female readers of all ages. (Jan. 28)Forecast: Blurbs from an impressive lineup of women writers Anita Shreve, Susan Isaacs, Ursula Hegi pitch this book straight at its intended readership. It's hard to say whether confusion with the similarly titled Bee Season will hurt or help sales, but a 10-city author tour should help distinguish Kidd. Film rights have been optioned and foreign rights sold in England and France.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
This is a solid 4 1/2-star book, as many other reviewers have written. They've done a better job than I of explaining why you should read this book, so I won't go into that here.
However, some of us may want to know that the "Good Morning America says READ THIS!" sticker on the front of the hardcover is not a sticker at all, but is printed into the dust jacket and is therefore permanent and irremovable. For this reason, I'm returning it. I already own it as an old used paperback, but was hoping to have a more permanent, nice copy. This is not that.
If the permanent tie-in dust cover is not a big deal to you, please disregard. But if you're something of a book aesthete, now you know.
On the way she argues with the town's worst racist, spits on his boot and is jailed. Lily Owens decides this is the moment to jail-bust Rosaleen and run away from home. They land up as fugitives in Tumaron with three sisters who have a connection with Lily's mother. Lily starts her journey towards forgiving herself, her mother and experiencing growing up in a loving household.
This book is memorable in several ways: Sue Monk Kidd's original, quirky, highly perceptive portrayal of life in the deep south; the serious issues of racism and religion are shown - not in the usual hackneyed way, but with an irreverence and humour that made me smile time and again. Picture a colourful group of eccentric sisters with a love for life, wearing flamboyant hats, gospel singing and dancing in a canga line; the story is poignant and the characters become complex, strong and wise. I enjoyed reading this story and once started had to see where it would lead.
Lily rescues her stand-in mother, Rosaleen, from the hospital and they go to Tibrion, SC, to escape from Lily's dad and the townsfolks in her hometown. A peach grower's daughter, Lily has only one clear memory of her mother ~~ the day she was killed. So for most of Lily's life, she has felt like there was a hole in her heart ~~ and longs for a mother to care for her. So this novel is basically a journey into one's past, facing the harsh truths of reality and finding redemption. Lily and Rosaleen meet a house full of women, one of whom is a beekeeper. Lily discovers her secrets as she tends to the bees ~~ and finds herself growing into womanhood.
This is a moving story about a girl on the threshold of womanhood ~~ seeking the truth for her mother and about herself. It is about women bonding together in times of duress and in times of joy. But mostly, it is about Lily and her tribulations and trimpuhs ~~ and growing up in the deep South in the 60s just as the Civil Rights Movement began. It's an interesting novel and one to share with others. It's definitely a good book club reading choice!
The characters are so fabulously rich in depth that you wish they were actually part of your social circle of friends, except for T Ray, who you'd never want to actually know, LET alone believe he could be so cruel to Lily.
Since I had started keeping bees myself almost 3 years ago, that part of the book was most enjoyable, and planting an orchard ourselves, lead me to imagining growing up as Lily having her favorite spot to hide out in the orchard as her escape from reality.
Also growing into a teenager around the same turbulent era of segregation piqued my memories and emotions of those times and how far we've come, but how far we still have to go. The twists and turns left me aching for more and wanting to know how Lily grows into adulthood and what happens to Zach, I wished I had an August Boatwright in my life when I lost my mother at 19!
I enjoyed the last pages of Q & A with author as much as the book itself, giving me even greater insight to the author's thought process and literary process.
All I can say is....I can't wait to see the movie now, and decide which one of Sue Monk Kidd's books I want to read next!