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The Secret Life of Bees (Penguin Drop Caps) Hardcover – May 7, 2013
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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 South Carolina 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
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.
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Top Customer Reviews
The main character, Lily Owens is fleeing an abusive father and an all-consuming truth surrounding her mother's death. The Secret Life of Bee's is set in the 1960's when racial tensions and violence were at an all time high. Lily and her caretaker Rosaleen, leave town after a violent encounter with racists while Rosaleen was attempting to exercise some of her newly granted freedoms.
Since the death of her mother, Lilly has a few precious clues as to her last days. The clues lead Lily and Rosaleen to Tiburon, South Carolina where they meet the `calendar sisters', May, June, and August Boatwright. The Boatwright sisters operate a successful Bee farm. Lily and Rosaleen are welcomed to the farm with open arms. Through her work on the farm, Lily is able to examine her past and begin to trust as she finds love again.
The Secret Life of Bee's is the story of mothers. The reader will travel with Lily as she experiences each of the four remarkable women ~ Rosaleen, May, June, and August. Each of these women is a teacher and guide to Lily. It is through her experiences that she is able to discern that a mother is more than just a biological bond.
A great debut for Sue Monk Kidd. I cannot help thinking that I would have loved to learn more about Boatwright sisters...maybe there is room for another story!
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.
Kidd's story-telling phraseology is best described as an eccentric, non-affected prose bathed in innocence, and parallels the story experienced by Lily Owens, a young white girl from a peach-farm family and abusive father in rural South Carolina and Lily's colored nanny, Rosaleen. Leaving, they meet troublesome racism of 1964 as Civil Rights Law enacts. Lily desperately seeks information on her dead mother's past, & Rosaleen determines to become a registered voter. In Tiburon, S.C., a town name scrawled on a picture belonging to Lily's mother, they are directed to the home of the Boatwright's, three bee-keeper sisters named May, June and August -- and coincidences just keep coming.
We learn much about broken families, racism, sharing, religious faith abetted by "Black Madonna" and poignant insight into the raptures of adolescent loneliness, flights of fantasy & nuturing instincts. Naturally, there is much ado about bees and honey. Perceptive & sensitive, the novel caters toward womankind but is powerful reading & has no bounds on readership.
An outstanding first novel by a gifted writer who puts spit and polish on each word, seasoned writers must admire and be envious of her fluid style. As an old-fashioned cardiologist, I found the book heart-touching & it would make a great gift for any special occasion or just because.
Yes, the plot is ever-so slightly contrived...but I think we might excuse that on the grounds that this novel skirts along the verges of magical realism. It's OK to suspend your disbelief. It's OK to allow part of the storyline to function as part of the "mystery" of the bees.
I will hand over this book to my daughter (who is 17) to read on the beach. It's a quick read, a good example of solid writing, and will show her a slice of life from the 1960s. (Beats Twilight hands-down.)