The Secret Life of Bees is another of my favorite southern books, yet so different than ‘Little Altars’ or ‘Belle Cantrell.’ The rich prose of Sue Monk Kidd weaves a story of Lilly, a 14-year-old from South Carolina as she journeys to learn about her past, her family, and herself. It’s 1964, at the height of the Civil Rights movement and Lily and her nanny, Rosaleen are sick and tired of their everday lives. They live in constant fear of Lily’s father, “T-Rex,” who blames Lily for accidentally shooting and killing her mother Deborah years ago, and the political unrest of segregated South Carolina is too much for Rosaleen to handle.
Then one day in town, Rosaleen gets beaten by a group of white men when trying to protect her new right to vote, and it becomes the breaking point for her and Lily. The two of them run away to Tiburon, South Carolina, with no knowledge of where they’re going except for a picture of a Black Madonna with the town name scrolled on the card, the only momento Lily has left of her mother.
When they arrive in Tiburon, the Black Madonna leads them to the home of the Boatwright sisters, August, June, and May. The Calendar sisters take Lily and Rosaleen in, and introduce them to the world of beekeeping and honey making. Lily keeps her roots and family a secret from the sisters, who know more about Deborah than Lily can ever imagine.
The crazy encounters at the Boatwright house are always lighthearted and fun for the reader, whether it be Lily’s crush on a local farm hand, or a church service gone wild at the sisters’ home. The warm, loving Boatwright sisters teach Lily and Rosaleen how to stand up for themselves and fight for what they believe, and most importantly, true love.
If you want a feel-good family book, The Secret Life of Bees is a perfect fit. Be sure to check out the movie, starring Dakota Fanning and Queen Latifa, and one of my other favorites, Sue Monk Kidd’s The Mermaid Chair.