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The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd


For my fifth outside reading book review, I chose to read The Secret Life of Bees written by Sue Monk Kidd. The genre is African American Literature. The copyright date 2002.

Personally, I would recommend The Secret Life of Bees for middle school students. This novel describes a part of fourteen year old Lily Owens’ life. Lily has been living a tough life. Nobody accepts her and on top of that, her family has been living in a life full of secrets and lies. Lily’s mother, Deborah, died when Lily was only two years old (p.8). Since then, Lily has been living with her father, T-Ray. T-Ray has been treating Lily with disrespect and cruel punishments. T-Ray continuously ignores Lily which in some cases, are for the better (p.17). Lily’s housekeeper, Rosaleen, was aware of T-Ray’s ways and had deep sorrow for Lily. Rosaleen was the only one that respected Lily. Lily was unpopular and did not have any friends. Lily felt that as sad as it sounds, Rosaleen was Lily’s one and only friend that understood her (p. 23). Lily would have to take their friendship to the test. The next few months of Lily’s life was going to be hectic. Lily and Rosaleen were going to embark on a journey they never saw coming.

The Secret Life of Bees would be an outstanding recommendation for middle school students. Even though the events that took place in this novel occurred several years ago, I feel that students can relate to the characters and actions demonstrated. The plot of the story takes place in Tiburon, South Carolina. It is the year 1964 (p.49). Lily and Rosaleen are running away to escape T-Ray. They cannot stand to stay with him any longer. Lily has found some of her mother’s hidden items and belongings buried in her garden (p.14). Written on a picture of Black Mary, an unfamiliar handwriting read S.C Tiburon. That’s where Lily and Rosaleen were heading. Lily believed that it had to be an important meaning since it was written on one of Deborah’s belongings (p.14). After a couple days of walking and hitchhiking, Lily and Rosaleen finally arrive to South Carolina (p.59). Lily and Rosaleen were starving so Lily stopped by a restaurant to see if she could buy any affordable food. Lily was greeted inside by a cashier. Lily bought some sandwiches and while she was waiting, she noticed a pile of honey jars with the picture of Black Mary on the label. It looked just like the picture Lily found that her mother had. Written across the jars read Black Madonna Honey. Curious, Lily asked the cashier who was on the label. The cashier replied August Boatwright. Lily immediately wanted to meet her so she asked for her address and the cashier gladly gave it to her (p.64). When Lily and Rosaleen arrived to the house, Lily knew it was no mistake. The house was painted a blinding pink and the smell of honey overwhelmed her. Three Negro women welcomed them at the door. They introduced themselves as May, June, and August Boatwright. The three sisters have been running their honey business for over fifteen years. Lily and Rosaleen introduced themselves and when August asked why they had come, Lily immediately panicked. Lily was about to tell them everything from the picture her mother owned, to the jars of honey she just spotted at the restaurant. But Lily feared that the sisters would call the police and send them right back to T-Ray. That was the last thing both of them wanted. So instead, Lily lied to them that her mother died at a very young age and her father died in a tractor accident. She said they only needed a place to stay for a couple of weeks because they were going to live with Lily’s fake aunt that lives in Virginia. Lily couldn’t tell if the sisters saw right through her lies but they agreed to let her stay (p.72). June did not like Lily though and she wanted her to just leave. June detected suspicion within Lily; she just didn’t know what yet (p.80). This novel gives students a great understanding of the period of time in which it was written about. In the 1920’s, African Americans had little rights and the country was segregated. In the novel, Rosaleen suffered a great deal with how white Americans treated her. Rosaleen wanted so badly as to get her voting license, but many Americans were against African Americans getting any rights. Lily and Rosaleen were going to a church to get Rosaleen her license, when they were abruptly stopped by a gang. The men were harassing Rosaleen and trying to stop her from getting her voting rights. Angry, Rosaleen spit all over the men’s shoes and started to walk off. The men called the police and when the police came, they arrested Rosaleen for assault (p.33). Lily comes to the jail to break Rosaleen out and she finds Rosaleen beaten. Rosaleen explains the police had allowed the men from the gang to come and beat her up. Lily successfully breaks Rosaleen out and they go home (p.46). At the end of the novel, Rosaleen gets her voting license along with the Boatwright’s, but even so, it was difficult to do so in the first place. This novel also demonstrates true love as Lily falls in love with Zach, a fifteen year old Negro. Lily and Zach grow a great friendship and bond. Lily soon finds out about Zach’s secretive childhood (p.143). Lastly, this novel teaches students the meaning of trust. At the end of the novel, Lily eventually tells August about her mother, T-Ray, and about the Black Mary picture her mother had. August tells Lily she knew all along (p.257). It turns out August was Deborah’s housekeeper when she was a little girl. Deborah adored August and when she grew up, she went to find August. Deborah only married T-Ray because she was pregnant with Lily. Their love was real at first, but after a while it just seemed to die. Having no other choice, Deborah finds August and stays with her for three months to help get advice and get over her depression. At this point, Lily was only two years old. Deborah realizes she must get back to Lily, so she decides to sneak back home to pack and bring Lily to go live with August before T-Ray gets home. But by the time Deborah gets home, it was too late. Furious, T-Ray threatens Deborah and gets a gun out (p.295). T-Ray eventually finds where Lily and Rosaleen have been staying and forces them to go back home. August stops them though and says to T-Ray how she loves Lily and Rosaleen and they can stay. August even says she will adopt Lily. August promises to take care of Lily as if she were her own. With no other words than “Good riddance”,
T-Ray leaves. Lily hasn’t heard from him since (p.300). T-Ray never did care about Lily. After Deborah left him, a part of his heart broke and it never had the time to heal. T-Ray has spent his whole life living in regret. That’s what love does to a person.

Therefore, I would recommend The Secret Life of Bees for middle school students. This novel teaches students important values and it portrays real life events.



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