The Secret Life of Bees begins in the summer of 1964 with Lily, 14, and her dad T.Ray in South Carolina. Her mum had died when Lily was a very young child and ever since Lily has had a troublesome childhood. She never felt like she belonged anywhere, and her dad seemed particularly cruel and unloving. Her only glimpse of caring came from Rosaleen, the woman T.Ray took from working in the orchard to help around the house.
In a world where black people were considered lower class citizens, Rosaleen did not have the best life growing up either. Together, Lily and Rosaleen navigate through the challenges of being a black woman in a white man’s world, whilst also dealing with Lily’s emotional scars of losing a mother. Although the president signed the Civil Rights Act and allowed black people to vote, there was not an immediate shift of public opinion. Lily is forced to grow up quickly when she is exposed to the truth of racism in the southern states.
The pair end up on a journey to a different kind of world when they meet August and her sisters making honey in the big pink house. Lily works to resolve her conflicting feelings for her mother and the day she died, and looks to find a place where she truly belongs.
Sue Monk Kidd focuses on the stories we all know about racism and the fight for equality. Her female characters show strength and determination in the face of adversity. The story feels so familiar at times but still catches your breath as it sweeps you from one emotion to another.
The Secret Life of Bees fills you with haunting images followed by a hope for a better future. It balances grief with love, despair with belief, and betrayal with loyalty. Although religious themes are explored, they only serve to enhance the characters rather than getting too involved. The process of beekeeping adds another dimension and pulls the characters together.
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