Lily Owens is a fourteen-year-old Southern girl with an ache in her heart and a dark secret. She lives in Sylvan, South Carolina, with her abusive father, T Ray, and her stand-in mother, an African American woman named Rosaleen. The only item she has left of her dead mother is a box containing a picture of a mysterious African American woman. Lily has a big heart and a tenacious spirit. When Rosaleen’s life is in peril, Lily risks her own to save her. She has the strength to do what she must even though she knows it will cause many in her own race to hate her.
Then, her life is thrown into turmoil when she must flee in order to save herself. She and Rosaleen end up in Tiburon, South Carolina, at the home of sisters May, June, and August Boatwright, African American beekeepers. The sisters accept the two refugees into their home and do not question their improbable story. While staying with the sisters, Lily searches for answers about her mother. What happened to her mother and who is the mysterious woman in the picture?
Lily also realizes the extent of her racism. As she struggles with her prejudice, she wonders if she will ever be able to overcome her upbringing. In addition, Lily experiences unconditional love for the first time in her memory, love that she does not think she deserves and does not know how to accept. Is Lily really deserving of the love, or is her dark secret too terrible?
I believe that in writing The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd is attempting to draw attention to the injustice of segregation and racism in the South in the 1960s. The author grew up in Georgia in the 1950s, in an era when racism was very prevalent in the United States. She writes from the situations she has experienced in her life. I think that by writing about unfair situations in her book and her characters' reactions she is showing that she disapproves of how African Americans were and still are treated. With this in mind, I believe that Sue Monk Kidd greatly opposes how African Americans have been treated in the United States in the past and still today.
While reading The Secret Life of Bees, I was reminded of the fact that some Caucasian people did not think it was possible for African Americans to reject them because of their skin color. Lily cannot believe what she is hearing when she overhears June arguing with August about Lily and Rosaleen staying with them just because Lily is white. This idea was interesting for me to contemplate.
I enjoyed reading this book because it presents a unique perspective on life in the South. It was interesting to read about Lily’s interactions with people of a different race and how her upbringing influenced her words and actions. I definitely recommend The Secret Life of Bees to others who may enjoy a dramatic retelling of life in the 1960s South.