Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Book Review: The Secret Life of Bees

5 Stars
Beautifully written, steady-paced coming-of-age story in Southern America.

Set in South Carolina in 1964, The Secret Life of Bees tells the story of Lily Owens, whose life has been shaped around the blurred memory of the afternoon her mother was killed. When Lily's fierce-hearted black "stand-in mother," Rosaleen, insults three of the deepest racists in town, Lily decides to spring them both free. They escape to Tiburon, South Carolina--a town that holds the secret to her mother's past. Taken in by an eccentric trio of black beekeeping sisters, Lily is introduced to their mesmerizing world of bees and honey, and the Black Madonna. This is a remarkable novel about divine female power, a story women will share and pass on to their daughters for years to come.


Every line is original – beautiful and creative without a whiff of pretentiousness. The style felt heavy at times, especially earlier on when I wasn’t fully hooked, but at other times it was the main reason I was reading. I feel like there’s a lot I can learn from this author.

There are obvious themes. Racism, religion, bees... that’s not what this book is about though. It’s about love in a way that warms your heart and gives you hope for people, even the ones who make terrible mistakes.

I liked Lilly a lot. I loved August. And I felt like I shouldn’t like Rosaleen, but it turns out I love her, and May and June too. Rosaleen intrigued me the most though, as she’s rough round the edge but loveable all the same.

Turns out I love bees too. I knew their behaviour was complex yet structured, but it really is a beautiful thing to learn about. I enjoyed how the author matches up facts about bees with Lilly’s life. Sue Monk Kidd has done her research well and made a book that is far more than just a good read.

The actual plot wasn’t the strength of this novel. The pace is quite steady, and if someone turned around and told me it was a memoir, I wouldn’t be surprised. Nothing too shocking happened, but there’s always something going on and it feels very realistic. If the writing wasn’t so amazing, and if I hadn’t wanted to meet August just to talk to her about life, I would have rated a bit lower. I loved the characters and writing style, a lot of it was touching, but it’s not the most eventful book.

I hadn’t read anything like it before, but I’ve had a browse of other reviews and noticed that a lot of people said it was cliché – a typical Southern coming of age story. If the book sounds familiar and the writing doesn’t draw you in, then you probably won’t like it. I’m reading outside my genre here so I’m not exactly an expert, but if I’m going to pick one Southern coming of age story, I’m glad I went with this one.

It had me teary at times and smiling at others. The mystery of the mother ties the book together, and kept me reading because I had to know what happened. I’m glad I read it. I think this is a book I’ll pass on, so it can spread a bit of life philosophy onwards.

This might just be me, although I really hope someone else felt this way, but I couldn’t pick up this book without Eddie Izzards voice saying, “I’m covered in bees!

Source: Bought from charity shop.