The Secret Life of Bees is a wonderful novel about acceptance and kindness and love and I really liked it. 4.5 stars
The Secret Life of Bees was a beautiful book about redemption and acceptance. The symbols of fire and bees were wonderfully interwoven and a pitch-perfect character and setting took me to my happy place. Lily was an amazing character, and the sisterhood was the most warm and welcoming place for her, and I love how she came to accept her role in events, and learnt who she was and what a mother was. The elements of spirituality built in throughout the book were another thing I liked. This review is going to be sections of me showing the parts which I liked.
Bees: Bees are a symbol in a lot of books. In this one, a love how they represented the truth: sometimes sweet, sometimes with a sting, but always better than living without honey or community or love. The queen bee cares for all her people, as does Mary, as do others. Lily starts off with the bees oozing through the world, threatening her, and showing her and her fathers mistrustful relationship. Bees also symbolise the grace and the acceptance- of herself and others- that Lily needs as she journeys towards wholeness with May, Roslaleen, Zach and even T. Ray. The bees healing and wholeness hums through the novel, and they have a ‘secret life’ just as Lily keeps so many secrets, which so harm the people around her, a sting if there ever was one. <spoiler> The fact that many of these secrets were known all along is also important, because the quotes show that we know quite a bit about bees as social animals having secret lives too.
Character: Lily, the Calendar Sisters, Rosaleen and Zach are all written really well. Kidd knows how to write character and relationships (the ultimate healing factor for Lilys shame and loathing of herself and T. Ray and Deborah) Lily is a wonderfully complex character, and the idea of shooting your own mother by mistake, in addition to abuse and confusion, well, it makes an interesting combination. Her journey of acceptance was one of the best things I’ve read all year (and being one of the best of fifty is quite an achievement). May was also a really complex character, and the discrepancy of her bubbling, childlike joy and her soul encroaching sadness, sort of representing the love and community as well as the abhorrent racism of the South. Zach was a wonderful character as well. I liked how he made Lily think about her inherent racism (not thinking that black people could be beautiful) and comforting her. Rosaleen kept Lily grounded to reality. And August, thoughtful and introspective and understanding had the terrible task of telling Lily the truth, which she did with the grace and wisdom of a storyteller.
Setting: The time (in the midst of the civil rights movement) and the place were written extremely well. Obviously, S. M. Kidd is Southern, and she evokes the heat and love of such a place perfectly. I loved how it came full circle at the end of the book with T. Ray and Rosaleen registering to vote. The idea of place as something everyone needs, a place where they fully belong, was explained really well. Gah, I’m using all these superlatives. Because it was really good. Lily finds her place and so does everyone else- June, Zach, T. Ray, August, and even May. The joy of the people and the humming beehives and the pink house were set against the terrible things that everyone had done. And above it all hovered the queen bee, the Mary, who led everyone into a realm of love, and added a fascinating element of spirituality to the book.
Overall, the only bone I have to pick with this book, is that Rosaleen and Lily’s relationship didn’t seem close enough for her to get Rosaleen out of jail to me. If you love humour, and internal rather than external plot and really well written characters, I thoroughly recommend this one.
“lifting a persons heart- now that matters”
“there is nothing but mystery in the world”
“the shock of having life possibilities”