The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

Set in South Carolina in 1964, The Secret Life of Bees tells the story of Lily Owens, whose life has been shaped around the blurred memory of the afternoon her mother was killed.

When Lily’s fierce-hearted black “stand-in mother,” Rosaleen, insults three of the deepest racists in town, Lily decides to spring them both free. They escape to Tiburon, South Carolina — a town that holds the secret to her mother’s past.

Taken in by an eccentric trio of black beekeeping sisters, Lily is introduced to their mesmerizing world of bees and honey, and the Black Madonna.

This is a remarkable novel about divine female power, a story women will share and pass on to their daughters for years to come.

Kidd’s first novel, The Secret Life of Bees, was one of the few books that impressed me as a kid. Her writing style is breezy and endearing and her personal views on feminism and religion were the kind of thoughts that I hadn’t learned how to express yet.

As a girl growing up in the South, there was a lot about Lily Owens that I admired but it was the beekeeping sisters and Rosaleen who made me more mindful about the expectations (and power) of women in Southern life.

In a lot of ways, I think The Secret Life of Bees was the bridge I needed to appreciate Maya Angelou and the great life-altering, discovering-who-you-are, resiliency that she shares with readers.

At its start, the book is horribly confusing. I had to reread the first chapter periodically trying to figure out what was going on in this opening and whether or not the book was answering my initial questions. Largely, it does but you are left to interpret so ambiguity in the end. While I would usually hate that – which is why I’m not a huge fan of Shakespeare – I think Kidd’s ambiguity is actually fitting for a book that carries such heavy undertones.

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