I received The Secret Life of Bees as a Christmas gift this year. It was a book that had been on my wishlist for a while but, for the life of me, I couldn’t tell you what initially made me put it there. I’ve never read anything by Sue Monk Kidd. I probably just read a great review of it, because it is an amazing book that I absolutely loved and it deserves good reviews.
The Secret Life of Bees opens with a young narrator, a teenager named Lily, telling you about her life. She lives with her father on a peach farm and if that sounds wonderful it’s because you haven’t yet heard that her father is a monster. He’s constantly bad tempered, he shouts a lot, he comes up with deviously horrible punishments and he forces her to work on the farm. At some point, their maid, a black woman named Rosaleen gets arrested, basically because white men in 1964 South Carolina are exactly as racist as you expect. Meanwhile, Lily’s dad takes it upon himself to inform Lily that her dead mother never loved her, and Lily takes off, breaking Rosaleen out of jail and dragging her off on an adventure – running both from the law and from her horrible home life.
She finds herself almost mystically in the home of three sisters who are beekeepers and who take her in. What follows is one of the most tender and poignant coming-of-age stories I’ve read. It broke my heart approximately once every 20 pages and I just kept reading because every single page was a delight anyway. The novel has themes associated with racism and the civil rights movement, as well as mention sexism, the story also manages to treat with respect Lily’s own personal struggles to come to terms with her childhood and with the person she is becoming. There is so much love in this book that you can’t fail to be carried away with it.
I have heard that there is a movie, which I now want to watch, and that Sue Monk Kidd once talked about writing a sequel, which I would absolutely read. On the other hand, I think I’d like a prequel even better because I’m curious about Lily’s mother and how she ended up with a man like Lily’s father. I’m also curious about the histories of the bee-keeping sisters. Basically, everything about this book made me want to read more about the characters in it. Not that it felt too short, just that I was, probably quite intentionally, left wanting more.