I found myself reading Sue Monk Kidd's breathtaking first novel, The Secret Life of Bees, during a season of extraordinary sadness, a time of boundless ache, deep anxiety and creeping distrust.
Honey-sweet but never cloying, this debut by nonfiction author Kidd (The Dance of the Dissident Daughter) features a hive's worth of appealing female characters, an offbeat plot and a lovely style. Fourteen-year-old Lily and Rosaleen, the black woman who has been Lily's stand-in mother for ten years, take to the road in 1964.
This sweeping debut novel, excerpts of which have appeared in Best American Short Stories, tells the tale of a 14-year-old white girl named Lily Owen who is raised by the elderly African American Rosaleen after the accidental death of Lily's mother. Enabling JavaScript in your browser will allow you to experience all the features of our site. Rosaleen is escaping from jail after insulting the town's racists while Lily flees her abusive father and the haunting memory of her mother's violent death.
20121 Kings 8:28 -- But please listen to my prayer and my request, because I am your servant. There they are taken in by an eccentric trio of black beekeeping sisters who introduce Lily to a mesmerizing world of bees, honey, and the Black Madonna who presides over their household. Fourteen-year-old Lily is on the lam with motherly servant Rosaleen, fleeing both Lily's abusive father T.


They journey to Tiburon, South Carolina, because Lily found the place name on the back of a black Madonna picture among her late mother's possessions.
This is a remarkable story about divine female power and the transforming power of love—a story that women will continue to share and pass on to their daughters for years to come. Lily is also fleeing memories, particularly her jumbled recollection of how, as a frightened four-year-old, she accidentally shot and killed her mother during a fight with T. There the runaways are sheltered by May, June, and Augusta€”black beekeeping sisters who are also keepers of the truth Lily seeks. It turns out that the town is headquarters of Black Madonna Honey, produced by three middle-aged black sisters, August, June and May Boatwright.
The way those bees flew, not even looking for a flower, just flying for the feel of the wind, split my heart down its seam." This is how the book begins, and this is how the author transports us into the story.
The "Calendar sisters" take in the fugitives, putting Lily to work in the honey house, where for the first time in years she's happy. But August, clearly the queen bee of the Boatwrights, keeps asking Lily searching questions. The other characters are wise and understanding mother figures, but Lily captures the reader.


But Lily is a budding writer, desperate to connect yet fiercely protective of her secret interior life. This novel also is of place and settinga€”the oppressive heat, the swarming bees, the countryside smells, and the pervasive racism are experienced through Kidd's words. Kidd's success at capturing the moody adolescent girl's voice makes her ambivalence comprehensible and charming. And it's deeply satisfying when August teaches Lily to "find the mother in (herself)" a soothing lesson that should charm female readers of all ages.
She lives with her father, a punishing man, and with Rosaleen, Lily's black "stand-in mother," who had worked on the family's peach farm until she was brought inside to take on the newly motherless girl.
Rosaleen has been practicing her cursive writing so that she can register to vote, and she has picked herself a candidate to back.
It isn't long before Lily and Rosaleen are inducted into their world: "We lived for honey," Lily says.




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