Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Book Review: Secret Life of Bees

Powell's Books · Barnes & Noble
Sue Monk Kidd © 2003

For quite some time, every book store, garage sale, grocery story display had copies of this book leaning off the shelf trying to fall in to my basket. I'd pick it up, read the synopsis on the back, ho-humm and put it back down—estrogen and honey just aren't my normal flavors. Then during a library book sale it slipped into my hands, hid among my other selections and I didn't realize what had happened until I had it home. OK, already I’ll read it!

I’m glad I did.

The story is set in South Carolina in the 1960's, during the heat of the civil rights movement. It is a story of a young girl named Lily Owens who is tormented by the blurry memory of her mother’s accidental death at her hands. She lives with a father she dubbed, T. Ray, whose only claim to genius is inventing creative way to punish her, such as kneeling on grits piled on the floor for hours. Kneeling on grits!?

The bees are a character of their own accord. They appear in her room at night and disappear when she attempts to show her father. One assumes that his ambient malevolence drove them back into the safety of her walls. Eventually Lily captures one in a jar to prove it to him. Awash in guilty feelings, she tries to release it, but the bee spins and spins it the jar. She can't understand why it won't fly away. Then in a crux moment where she must face her father's impending wrath, she notices the bee is gone. She realizes that there's no lid on her jar either. She bails out of her father's house, breaks her nanny Rosaleen out of the hospital where she’s being treated before being sent back to jail, (Rosaleen was indicted for dumping her tobacco-spit from her jar on some white men’s shoes--they deserved it.) before fleeing to Tiburon, South Carolina. Which is a name Lily found written on the back of a block of wood, sporting the a label for Black Madonna Honey, she found among her mother's things.

This scrap of her mother's belongings brings Lily and Rosaleen to the home of three benevelovent black women who are, yep-you guessed it, beekeepers. Here Lily learns to send love to the bees, reconcile her past, collect honey, learn to trust, make beeswax candles, belong to something bigger than herself, cool bees on hot days, the truth of her mother’s story, cook honey, even understand her father, and finally finds the home she craved.

This is a heartfelt story that also has teeth. It challenges our perceptions and changes our lives in a honey flavored way.

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