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The Secret Life of Bees

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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.

302 pages, Paperback

First published November 8, 2001

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About the author

Sue Monk Kidd

67 books12k followers

SUE MONK KIDD was raised in the small town of Sylvester, Georgia. She graduated from Texas Christian University in 1970 and later took creative writing courses at Emory University, as well as studying at Sewanee, Bread Loaf, and other writers’ conferences. In her forties, Kidd turned her attention to writing fiction, winning the South Carolina Fellowship in Literature and the 1996 Poets & Writers Exchange Program in Fiction.

When her first novel, The Secret Life of Bees, was published by Viking in 2002, it became a genuine literary phenomenon, spending more than 2½ years on the New York Times bestseller list. It has been translated into 36 languages and sold more than 6 million copies in the U.S. and 8 million copies worldwide. Bees was named the Book Sense Paperback Book of the Year in 2004, long-listed for the 2002 Orange Prize in England, and won numerous awards. The novel was adapted into a award-winning movie and an Off-Broadway musical.

The Mermaid Chair spent 24 weeks on the New York Times hardcover bestseller list, reaching the #1 position, and spent 22 weeks on the New York Times trade paperback list. The novel won the Nation Quill Award and was made into the television movie.

The Invention of Wings, her third novel, was published in 2014 to wide critical acclaim and debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list where it remained for 9 months. It was selected for Oprah Winfrey's Bookclub 2.0 and other awards. Wings has been translated to 20+ languages.

She is also the author of several acclaimed memoirs, including The Dance of the Dissident Daughter and New York Times bestseller Traveling with Pomegranates, written with her daughter, Ann Kidd Taylor.

Her latest novel, The Book of Longings, is to be published on April 21, 2020.

Kidd lives in North Carolina with her husband.

Please visit www.suemonkkidd.com for more information. Follow Sue on Twitter & Instagram @SueMonkKidd and Facebook https://www.facebook.com/suemonkkidd

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 34,205 reviews
Profile Image for Kerry.
27 reviews80 followers
March 9, 2007
Okay, hear me out. This is SO not the kind of book I normally read. It's the kind of book my mother reads. You know the type I'm talking about: "Reviving Ophelia", "Not Without My Daughter"...mother-y books. It was, in fact, my mother who demanded I read this book, because she read it in her book club. DOUBLE red flag. That is when I normally drop the book and run as fast as possible away from her, screaming and flailing my arms. But when she gave me this book I happened to have a lot of time on my hands, so I determined to read it just to humor her, and braced myself for a sickeningly bittersweet learn-about-yourself Ya Ya Sisterhood fiasco.

And really, it kind of was. But in a cool way. And I liked it. Don't get me wrong, it is definitely chock-full of estrogen-soaked coming of age wisdom, complete with a veritable orgy scene of feminine self-discovery in which a roomful of goddess-worshipping gospel earth mothers smear honey onto a wooden likeness of the Virgin Mary.

Admit it, you're kind of interested. It's just good. Totally not for everyone, but it's good, and it's stayed with me all this time. It's kind of a period piece, too, and I guessed what I loved about it is that it's so not done. It really is pretty fresh and in my opnion, worthwhile.
Profile Image for Sammy.
207 reviews871 followers
June 12, 2007
Ahhh! *gasp* *choke* *stammer* I can barely find the words to say how much I loved this book. Honestly, The Secret Life of Bees has to be one of the best books I've read in a while. I just want to give it several A+'s and a kiss!

It was touching, well-written, beautiful, full of expression, insightful, anything you could want in a book and then some. It started off with a bang, that wasn't a bang... it grabbed you, but didn't startle you so much that the rest of the book was dull in comparison. There was romance, love, family, racial issues, religious experiences, and bees.

I have a feeling the title may deter a lot of people thinking that, oh, it's a book about bees! Well, there is a lot mentioned about bees, but it only helps enrich the story. With elements in the bees lives that tied in nicely with the lives of Lily Owens and the bee keeping sisters. All the characters are full and developed, except for the asshole racists in the very beginning of the book and somewhere in the middle, but even then real life racists aren't full and developed either. I'm sorry if you're a racist and you're reading this, but... well, fuck off. Mwa ha ha ha!

The only problem I had with this book was that I wished it was longer... but I think it was the perfect length. Nothing dragged out and nothing cut too short. Like little bears porridge, chair, and bed, it was perfect! I'm not surprised their making a movie out of it... I just hope that most people read the book before going to see it, because if they mess it up in the movie, that could deterr a lot of people from reading this wonderful book. And typically books are better than movies, because there's more and you have more freedom for thought. I also want them to cast me. *wink wink*

Sue Monk Kidd mentioned about possibly writing a sequel, possibly after she finishes writing her current work in progress The Mermaid Chair (which, if she continues writing like she did in this book, I will gobble up as soon as it comes out). I hope she doesn't write a sequel though, because The Secret Life of Bees can truely stand on it's own. And I'm sure as much as many people want to read more about Lily Owens and the Daughters of Mary, I think it will be hard for the second novel to live up to the expectations the first one made. This book may make it hard for Sue Monk Kidd... but if her writing continues to be as stellar as the writing in this book... she will have a fan base almost as big as J.K. Rowling. Potter-heads note the word almost.
Profile Image for Lisa of Troy.
401 reviews3,473 followers
April 6, 2023
The Secret Life of Bees is a fictional story set in 1964 South Carolina. Lily Owens lives with her abusive father, T.Ray, and she is haunted by the mysterious circumstances surrounding her mother’s death. One day, Lily finds herself in legal trouble after a racist encounter, and she goes on the run with Rosaleen. Will Lily find a place where she is loved and accepted? What will happen when her new host discovers the truth?

Each chapter starts off with some facts about bees. Did you know that in certain areas bees produce purple honey?

The Good

The beginning of this book is fascinating, and there are some laugh-out-loud moments. There are some elements of this book which are borderline fantasy, and that is really the fantasy that I love best, where something might actually be true. The bees added a certain depth to the story, and I enjoyed how they were woven into the fabric of The Secret Life of Bees.

This book has a lot of really strong female characters. They are hard-working women, and I really enjoy seeing pieces of literature where women are central figures, doing important work.

The Bad

The pacing is a bit too slow. For example, there are two big reveals that we know are coming. However, it took far too long to get there. There were too many times where Lily was going to reveal her secret and then changed her mind.

The reading technique that I used for this book is called immersion reading (listening to the audiobook while following along in a copy of the text). The narrator was Jenna Lamia. She did a great job; however, she also narrated a similar book entitled The Help, a book also about race relations in the 1960’s in the Southern United States. Personally, I enjoyed The Help more than The Secret Life of Bees.

2023 Reading Schedule
Jan Alice in Wonderland
Feb Notes from a Small Island
Mar Cloud Atlas
Apr On the Road
May The Color Purple
Jun Bleak House
Jul Bridget Jones’s Diary
Aug Anna Karenina
Sep The Secret History
Oct Brave New World
Nov A Confederacy of Dunces
Dec The Count of Monte Cristo

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Profile Image for Will Byrnes.
1,295 reviews120k followers
April 21, 2022
Sue Monk Kidd - image from her FB pages

The Secret Life of Bees is a lovely tale. It tells of Lily, a South Carolina 14 year old. She lives, unhappily, with her crusty father T. Ray and Rosaleen, the woman who raised her after her mother died when Lily was 4. It is a coming of age tale set against the civil rights issues of the early 60’s. It is certainly no coincidence that Lily (as in white) spends most of the book in the company of earth-mother black people. Rosaleen attempts to register to vote and winds up in jail. Lily manages to spring her. Lily has always maintained fantasies about her dead mother, and wants to find out more about her. She uses clues found in materials left by her mother and winds up in another South Carolina town, in the home of the Calendar Sisters (August, June and May). There she learns about bee-keeping and mothering. There are mothering images aplenty here. The calendar sisters have evolved a personal religion around Mary, using a masthead image of the Virgin as an icon. Each chapter begins with a quote about bees. Each of these quotes tells of the substance of the following chapter. Lily learns the truth about her mother, becomes aware of her new sexuality, and grows up.

Queen Latifah, Jennifer Hudson, and Alicia Keys as August, Rosaleen and June

There are flaws here as well as a richness of imagery. The good people (Rosalee and August in particular) are far too perfect, and we are expected to believe that Lily has no visceral hesitation or consciousness about the social implications about her attraction to Zach. It is a very goopy book. That said, I enjoyed it and got teary at the expected places. Overall, a pretty good read, recommended.

Sophie Okonedo as May and Dakota Fanning as Lily

=============================EXTRA STUFF

Links to the author’s personal, Twitter and FB pages

A Teacher���s Guide to the book

A timeline of events in the story
Profile Image for Dolly.
33 reviews41 followers
July 11, 2007
I confess to being a little hesitant going into this book. It is, after all, that most cliched and irritating of literati faves: a coming-of-age story set in the American South. Lily, a motherless 14-year-old girl lives with her bigoted abusive father on a peach farm in South Carolina. Her goals involve befriending black people and finding information about her long-dead mother. Just summarizing this thing inspires the eye-rolling.

But the book does have some saving graces. First, the writing is incredible. Voice, pacing, transition, and word choice are all stellar. On a micro level, Ms Kidd is magnificent. For instance, despite the predictability of telling such a tale from the young girl's point of view, I thought the decision worked here. Lily herself is absolutely charming. She is completely honest with the reader, often to her own detriment. If the story had been written from anyone else's point of view, Lily would have been pathetic: abused motherless little girl who harbors way too much guilt and angst. This book could have gone off the deep end real easy. But Lily is a survivor and an optimist, and her naive faith drives this book.

Mostly. As you might expect in a story of this sort, there was plenty of menstruation angst, boyfriend nervousness, junior cheerleader tryouts, and the requisite abusive father. All of these things were painful to read. However, something that made this book somewhat fresh was the strong theme of race. For a nice chunk of the book, Lily is on the lam with her black housekeeper Rosaleen, traipsing through 1960s South Carolina after busting Rosaleen out of jail for offending some white guys. I was struck with the parallels to Mark Twain, only here the adventure was overlaid -- sometimes heavy handedly -- with a female sensibility. Nice. In fact, all of the embedded feminism was well done. Recurrent natural images of moonlight and water were beautiful and deliciously pagan. The author went to a lot of trouble to create a new religion just for girls: part Catholicism, part goddess-centered paganism, part ancestor worship. The religious aspect was interesting, but not as compelling as the author wanted it to be. I could tell she was trying to impress me with the notion of Mary as a goddess protector. But I didn't buy it. Lily bought it, though, and that was enough to keep me reading.

The whole book was a quest for independence, I think. To find confidence and drive within, without always needing that crutch of others' acceptance. The book almost achieved that. But it gave in at the last, to deliver a happy ending.

Now that I think about it, much of the book was cliche. But it was also a good read. The strength of the narrative voice saved it, and it had some absolutely gut-twisting parts. The line beginning "She was all I ever wanted" .... both painful and breathtaking.
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,566 reviews56.5k followers
September 28, 2021
The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd

The Secret Life of Bees is a book by author Sue Monk Kidd. Published: November 8th 2001.

The Secret Life of Bees tells the story of a 14-year-old white girl, Lily Melissa Owens, whose life has been shaped around the blurred memory of the afternoon her mother was killed.

She lives in a house with her abusive father, whom she refers to as T. Ray. They have a no-nonsense maid, Rosaleen, who acts as a surrogate mother for Lily.

The book opens with Lily's discovery of bees in her bedroom. Then, after Rosaleen is arrested for pouring her bottle of "snuff juice" on three white men, Lily breaks her out of the hospital and they decide to leave town.

They begin hitch-hiking toward Tiburon, SC, a place written on the back of an image of the Virgin Mary as a black woman, which Deborah, her mother, had owned.

They spend a night in the woods with little food and little hope before reaching Tiburon. There, they buy lunch at a general store, and Lily recognizes a picture of the same "Black Mary" but on the side of a jar of honey.

They receive directions to the origin of that honey, the Boatwright residence. They are introduced to the Boatwright sisters, the makers of the honey: August, May, and June, who are all black. Lily makes up a story about being an orphan. Lily and Rosaleen are invited to stay with the sisters. ...

عنوانهای چاپ شده در ایران: «زندگی اسرارآمیز زنبورها»؛ «زندگی اسرارآمیز»؛ «زندگی پنهان زنبورها»؛ نویسنده: سو مانک کید؛ تاریخ نخستین خوانش: سال 2005میلادی

عنوان: زندگی اسرارآمیز زنبورها؛ نویسنده: سو مانک کید؛ مترجم: شقایق قندهاری؛ تهران، علم، 1383؛ در 430ص؛ شابک 9644053958؛ داستانهای نویسندگان ایالات متحده آمریکا - سده 20م

عنوان: زندگی اسرارآمیز زنبورها؛ نویسنده: سو مانک کید؛ مترجم: صدیقه ابراهیمی (فخار)؛ تهران، البرز، 1384؛ در 376ص؛ شابک9644424506؛

عنوان: زندگی اسرارآمیز؛ نویسنده: سو مانک کید؛ مترجم: گیتا گرکانی؛ تهران، کاروان، 1385؛ در 379ص؛ شابک9648497346؛

عنوان: زندگی اسرارآمیز؛ نویسنده: سو مانک کید؛ مترجم: عباس زارعی؛ تهران، آموت، 1393؛ در 379ص؛ شابک9786006605579؛

داستان «لی‌لی» دختری چهارده ساله است؛ دختری که همراه با پدر و دایه‌ ی خویش، در یک مزرعه‌ ی هلو، خارج از ناحیه‌ ی «سیلوان» زندگی می‌کند؛ او در چهار سالگی، مادرش خویش را از دست داده، و خود را مقصر مرگ مادر می‌داند؛ و در عین حال با پدرش نیز رابطه‌ ی خوبی ندارد؛ «لی‌لی» به زنبورها، علاقه‌ ی ویژه ای نشان می‌دهد؛ او دختر ساده‌ ای است، که شخصیتی افسرده دارد، و هماره احساس می‌کند، که دیگران او را دوست ندارند؛ «لی‌لی» به همراه دایه‌ اش به شهر می‌رود، و از خانه می‌گریزد؛ و ...؛ متن این کتاب در مدارس، دبیرستان‌ها و دانشکده‌های «آمریکایی» در قالب درس ادبیات تدریس می‌شود

نقل از متن: (بال‌های آن‌ها را می‌دیدم که مثل تکه‌های کروم در تاریکی می‌درخشیدند؛ در سینه‌ام اشتیاق ناشی از حضور آن‌ها را حس می‌کردم؛ نوع پرواز آن‌ها که برای یافتن گُل نبود، و فقط می‌خواستند باد ناشی از بال زدنشان را حس کنند، قلبم را می‌شکافت؛ در طول روز صدای آن‌ها را می‌شنیدم که در دیوارهای اتاقم تونل می‌زدند: صدایی شبیه به پارازیت رادیویی که از اتاق بغلی می‌آمد، و آن‌ها را مجسم می‌کردم، که دارند دیوارها را تبدیل به شانه‌های عسل می‌کنند، و از آنجا عسل تراوش می‌کند، تا من آن را بچشم؛ سر و کله ی زنبورها از تابستان 1964میلادی پیدا شد، تابستانی که من چهارده ساله شدم و مسیر زندگی‌ام کاملاً تغییر کرد، منظورم این است که مسیر زندگی‌ام واقعا و به طور کامل تغییر کرد، حالا که به گذشته نگاه می‌کنم، باید بگویم که زنبورها را برای من فرستاده بودند؛ می‌خواهم بگویم آن‌ها همان طور که جبرئیل، فرشته الهی، بر مریم پاکدامن نازل شد، بر من آشکار شدند و وقایع چنان رقم خورد که اصلاً انتظار نداشتم؛ می‌دانم که نباید زندگی کوچکم را با او مقایسه کنم؛ اما باور دارم که این مسئله برای او اهمیت چندانی ندارد؛ بعدا دلیلش را خواهم گفت؛ فعلاً همین قدر بگویم که با وجود تمام اتفاقات تابستان آن سال، هنوز هم حس خوبی نسبت به زنبورها دارم، اول جولای 1964میلادی، توی رختخوابم خوابیده بودم، و منتظر بودم زنبورها پیدایشان شود، به چیزی فکر می‌کردم که «روزالین» درباره ملاقات‌های شبانه با زنبورها گفته بود؛ او گفته بود: «زنبورها قبل از مرگ جمع می‌شوند.»)؛ پایان

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 15/08/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ 05/07/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Anna.
35 reviews
May 12, 2008
It was ironic that I read most of this book on Mother's Day. At the core, this book isn't about race relations, the Virgin Mary, or even beekeeping, though those are all interesting parts of the story. It's a book about mothers. Mothers who are imperfect, mothers who make mistakes, and women who become mothers because they see people who need to be loved. I can't readily connect to most of those other topics, but everyone on the planet knows what it's like to have--or need--a mother in their lives.

The other part I loved about this book is the writing style. I've read very few books with such fanastic, simple imagery and accessible symbolism. I wish I underlined all my favorite metaphors in the book (like the dragonflies stitching the air) and I loved the parallels between the bee colonies and the women living in the pink house. It's books like these that make me want to write.
Profile Image for Rae  Walker.
14 reviews4 followers
July 2, 2007
This was a harmless, heart warming book that did not change my life or enrich my thinking in any large way - except perhaps that I am slightly less afraid of bees. One thing that is a slight pet peeve with me is the healing power apparently inherent in the culture of the 'other'. Here is the formula: 1 caucasian person, hurt and broken by the world they live in, be it by family, work or environment + 1 minority culture (black or asian is fine) = that one caucasian person finding the true wonders in life and becoming a more secure and happy human being after being surrounded by drove of their black or yellow or red skinned friends, who show them beauty and love such as a white person has never known. Thank you minority culture! All black women are not royalty, "like hidden queens". But a little known fact is that all, ALL old asian men are kung fu masters.

To summarize, I might criticize this book but I did read it in a weekend and there is something to be said for the ability of an author to keep his/her readers engaged. It is a good beach book. So there.
Profile Image for Megan Baxter.
985 reviews656 followers
May 19, 2014
Is it ever not going to be problematic to have a book about a young white girl finding nurturing black mother figures in the South? It's not the book itself, necessarily, just the part where this is practically a genre unto itself, and I haven't run into any books (certainly not with the stature of this one) about the young girl in the South who is black, and her experiences. Also the part where the black women are mostly there to mother the young white girl, and all of their differences tend to come down to eccentricities.

This is probably unduly harsh. The Secret Life of Bees is not a bad book - it's an easy read, it's a comfortable read, even in its portrayal of the impact of the Civil Rights movement on a small town that is interacting with it mostly through the media. It's just the overall impact of the stories authors are choosing to tell, that publishers are choosing to publish, and readers are choosing to read.

Does someone have something to recommend to me that breaks out of this mold?

Lily is the only daughter of an unloving white man. Her mother died when she was very little. She and Rosaleen, the black woman who raised her after her mother's death hit the road after an altercation between Rosaleen and the biggest racists in town. They find themselves in a small town in South Carolina, where they are both more or less adopted into the family of three black women, sisters, August, June, and May.

Lily struggles with how to tell the sisters who she really is and why she's there, as well as anger and guilt about her mother and father. Meanwhile, the sisters nurture. August takes care of the bees and takes Lily under her wing. June, a school teacher, refuses to marry the man she loves. May feels the horrors of the world far too sharply. Other black women come to their house for their own brand of syncretic worship, focusing around a statue of a Black Virgin Mary.

This book deals with some fairly difficult issues, so why do I categorize it as not particularly challenging? It deals with abuse, suicide, racism, and violence. None of those are easy topics. And yet, this book never reached out and grabbed me by the throat. It seemed to dance over these topics, not ignoring them, but not fully engaging with them either. It lacked anger, and some of these issues deserved some anger. (There were angry characters, but they were mediated by the nurturing aura of the book itself.)

I think part of the problem was that every time I picked it up, I kept pulling away from it, wondering why we so often seem to need this mediating figure of the young white woman in order to tell these stories. Wondering where the books about just August, and June, and May were. Or Rosaleen. Are they not being written? Or not published? Or am I just entirely oblivious to a bunch of books I should be reading?

Crossposted to Smorgasbook
Profile Image for Jeffrey.
Author 4 books80 followers
July 24, 2008
I surveyed my class and 80% gave it two thumbs up: 5 stars. That's 28 out of 35 students. The rest of the class gave it an OK: 3 or 4 stars. So my giving it 5 stars has been backed by research into the general public's taste. ;=)

Now, I'm not much for spending time on fiction. I don't need entertainment, I need information. But as a story teller, occasional writing class instructor, I like to keep up with some of the new fiction.

Bees is pretty good. I don't get a sense of the forced or trite here like I do in a lot of fiction. In reading most fiction, I can almost hear the writer thinking. I guess it's because I write and my intimate knowledge of the craft allows me to see a lot before it comes. Kind of like an actor who you know is just acting. But Kidd's writing is like Will Smith in Ali or Jamie Fox in Ray. In Ali there is no Smith and in Ray there is no Fox. Art works best when it's done by the talented who tap into the moment so right, so purely it stops being art and becomes real. Bees is real.

Some readers on Goodreads and Amazon had trouble with such things as the bee quotes at the start of each chapter being a bit obvious, the religious theme (didn't state but I'm sure it has to do with the women eating cake as the body of Mary), the triteness of a coming of age story and some of the characterization (ie: stereotypical African / American women) and so forth, but I believe these are more personal problems than problems with the story. In the overall scheme of analysis, these issues were cosmetic, superficial at best. Most liked it: In my class. At Goodreads. On Amazon.

I find it humorous that many of the pseudo-reviewers / intellectuals (if I throw in some over priced words, I'm a big-time reviewer) love to sling review-speak but have no or little experience in hands-on experience: writing. Maybe it's writer-wanna-be frustration or other personal issues. There’s a lot to be said for freeing oneself of inhibiting characteristics / weaknesses and the success and release of open-mindedness. Nevertheless . . .

Bottom line, I was impressed and I've read a lot of stories and written many myself. I know the difficulties involved in making a story work, making is real, and connecting to readers. This book does all that and more. Highly recommended.

Profile Image for Ceecee.
1,966 reviews1,499 followers
March 2, 2021

I have no idea why I didn’t read this years ago so it’s a case of better late than never. The year is 1964, the place is South Carolina and President Johnson has just granted the Civil Rights Act which ‘tears things open further’. Lily Owens mother Deborah died when she was four, her ‘onery’ father T. Ray blames her and the only real affection she gets is from their maid Rosaleen. After an incident when Rosaleen goes to try to register to vote, the pair have to leave town quickly and head for Tiburon where they end up living with the Boatwright sisters who produce honey......

This is a beautifully written coming of age story in which eventually Lily finds both peace and love and equally importantly, a real home. I really like how central to the storytelling, apart from the magic of bees, is the power of women, not just the Boatwright sisters and Rosaleen but their friends in the Daughters of Mary. This links to another important theme of spirituality through the Black Madonna. August Boatwright is a wonderful character of great wisdom and patience as she shows Lily the way through her pain and loss. There are several instances where there is tension, in particular racial tension, with several characters experiencing horrific racist treatment which breaks your heart. The book captures the times extremely well as Lily realises the significance that some people attach to skin pigment. Lily’s relationship with her father is very difficult and although T.Ray is a horrible character she comes to appreciate that he has lost much too. This does not forgive him his appalling treatment of her or his lack of love. Lily is intriguing, she’s very complex, an accomplished liar who doesn’t know when to stop over egging the pudding but she is also creative, very brave and loyal to Rosaleen. The secret life of bees element produces some fabulous images and demonstrates what incredibly wise insects they are which August reflects on and demonstrates.

Overall, this is touching and emotional in places and tense and heartbreaking at others covering harsh issues but giving strong messages about love and it’s healing power.

With thanks to NetGalley and Headline:Tinder Press for the copy in return for an honest review.
Profile Image for Nicole.
731 reviews1,829 followers
July 25, 2021
This was such a sweet story not my usual type but nice nonetheless. I wasn’t fully invested in it sadly, I still enjoyed it but not enough to raise my rating to 4 stars.

I wanted to review this book but weeks went by and I didn’t get the chance. However, upon reflection, I realised that I have nothing to say beyond the first 2 sentences.. it’s not a memorable book at all nor left an impression on me. It’s one of those that I’ll eventually only remember reading because of the title and the fact that this book is popular but not because of the story itself.

The movie honestly looks more fun than the book. I listened to the audiobook and the narration was good, not enough to make me love the book more but if you’re into audiobooks and want to read this book, then the audiobook is a safe choice especially since it’s told by two distinctive narrators (if i remember correctly).
Profile Image for Jason Koivu.
Author 7 books1,225 followers
November 21, 2014
Read it. Enjoyed it. Any day now I expect to be entirely swallowed up by my own home-grown vagina.

If you've read The Help, you don't need to read this. One contemporary coming of age book about a white southern girl amongst black women discovering life in 1960s is plenty.

Sue Monk Kidd's explosively popular (I'm going to go out on a very sturdy limb and guess that this was an Oprah book) The Secret Life of Bees is a perfectly enjoyable read that any mother would love. Oh the imagery, the ambiance, the estrogen! Halfway through I wanted nothing more than to curl up in my cardy on the couch with a cuppa herbal something-or-other and sip the sweet nectar of these succulent words. They flowed like honey: sweet, warm, and slow…

Oh so slow at times. There are only two or three moments in the 300+ pages that woke me from the pleasant droning (get it? the bees?) that entrances, captivating the reader's mind and attention. The soft ideas about religion, love and the mother-daughter bond hum against your ears, the buzz of thought never going beyond a distant whirring zzzzzzzz.
Profile Image for EPI.
118 reviews
June 26, 2007
A coming-to-age novel set in South Carolina at the height of desegregation. Lily is a lovable pre-teen who'd grown up believing she killed her mother (accidentally) and is trying to escape a brutal, abusive father. Filled with a cast of eccentric characters, Lily runs away with Rosaleen, a black servant, and finds herself in a beekeeper's sanctuary, where secrets come spilling out of the closet for a cymbal-clashing ending. Although rendered very close to the voice of a believable pre-teen, the prose is riddled with cliches and mawkishness and characters who liked to stare off into the distance whenever a dramatic moment came to pass. Here's an example, "The music sheplayed was the kind that sawed through you, cutting into the secret chambers of your heart and setting the sadness free." The father was a cardboard one-dimensional ogre, with no redeeming feature whatsoever.

The most rewarding sections were the dialogues, and the characters of the Daughters of Mary as well as the beekeeper, August and her sisters (named after the summer months, June and May) as well as Lily's flirtation with the black young male helper, Zach Taylor. There were also great dramatic moments, when the stories surrounding desegregation rose to the fore (although the style tended to underdramatize these sections).

Honestly, it's hard to fathom how this book was nominated for the Orange Prize, and an excerpt was selected as a Best American Short Story, as well as becoming a phenomenal number one bestseller.
Profile Image for Maggie Stiefvater.
Author 82 books167k followers
January 26, 2009
I hesitantly picked up this book based upon numerous recommendations; frankly, the back of the book blurb just didn't sound like my sort of thing. Historical coming of age drama type stuff is just not me.

That said, however, Sue Monk Kidd completely made me change my tune. While this book isn't perfect, I was completely enchanted by the writing, the pacing, and the careful observation. As a Virginian well-versed in humid Southern summers and Southern cooking, I thought Kidd did a fantastic job of evoking that feeling of sweat trickling slowly between your boobs.

Another point of interest is the way that feminism is worked into the novel. I'm not a huge fan of I-am-woman-hear-me-roar overt girlpower in film or literature, but this book is populated with female characters and about eight different kinds of love and strength and mystery. Throw in some very well done race issues, and I was willing to forgive the almost insanely inappropriately happy ending.

Do I have nitpicks with the book? Absolutely. Will I read it again? Absolutely. This is a book ripe for book group meetings.

***wondering why all my reviews are five stars? Because I'm only reviewing my favorite books -- not every book I read. Consider a novel's presence on my Goodreads bookshelf as a hearty endorsement. I can't believe I just said "hearty." It sounds like a stew.***
84 reviews1 follower
May 18, 2007
I'm picking this up again out of desperation. it's pretty bad. the pacing is terrible, the characterization is spotty, cliched, and rarely believeable, and there is so much shlocky dime-store 'wisdom' stuffed into the pages that it's a wonder anything ever actually happens, plot-wise. writing from the point of view of a child or adolescent is hard, and authors rarely get it right. this book certainly doesn't.

oh god, and the epigraphs at the beginning of each chapter are so hit-you-over-the-head-obvious and at the same time so lacking in poetry that I dread the title pages of each chapter. oh my god, really, you're comparing the queen bee to Mary? and linking it to the motherless child at the heart of the story? holy shit, how subtle and original.

all that being said, the fact that the story revolves around strong, independent female characters is its saving grace. when the older women tells the child that she loved a man once, but loved her freedom more - well, that was the best line in the book. it's still cliche, but I'd rather read crappy cliches about strong women than crappy cliches about, I don't know, women shopping for shoes and whining about men. or crappy cliches about men who are the center of the universe and women who simply revolve around them, washing their clothes and exclaiming over the size of their dicks.
Profile Image for Brian.
688 reviews334 followers
January 4, 2020
“Every little thing wants to be loved.”

Not sure what to say about this book. I enjoyed reading it, but I never had a desire to pick it up.
I read it. It was fine. I won’t read it again.
A big issue with “The Secret Life of Bees” is that it is emotionally manipulative. I do not mind that, but be good at manipulating me. This novel is excessively obvious about it.
However, the text has moments of nice insight and thought. Some examples:

“The problem is they know what matters, but they don’t choose it.”
“People, in general, would rather die than forgive.”
“Regrets don’t help anything, you know that.”

And here is where my frustration lies. Nuggets like these are scattered around the text, but I don’t feel this book gives them serious attention and development thru the characters. The ideas of mothers, motherhood and feminine love and friendship are explored, but at a very surface level. There is no depth. This is made painfully obvious by the ending of the text, which is pure melodrama.
“The Secret Life of Bees” suffers from the recurring issue of shallow investigations of what makes us human. The potential was there.
Goodness, this book could have been great. Instead, it settled for decent.
Profile Image for Brenda.
4,094 reviews2,663 followers
February 7, 2017
Fourteen year old Lily was so tired of her father yelling at her, forcing punishment on her almost daily, accusing her of things she didn’t do – so when Rosaleen, her nanny since her mother’s death when she was just four years old, was arrested and beaten by white men – with the police looking on - Lily decided enough was enough. The racial prejudice in South Carolina in the 1960s was oppressive and cruel – Lily couldn’t work out why skin colour made such a difference.

With no plan other than to get away from her home town of Sylvan, Lily and Rosaleen headed in the general direction of Tiburon. The mystery surrounding the death of Lily’s mother, and the little bit she knew about her, pulled her in that direction. But where they would go from there was anyone’s guess.

Sanctuary was granted to Lily and Rosaleen when they found themselves at the garish, bright pink home of beekeeping sisters, May, June and August, whom Lily called the Calendar Ladies. As Lily worked with August and the bees, and Rosaleen in the kitchen with May, Lily found herself confused and lost. Would she ever find peace? She was a white girl living among coloured women – her heart felt soft with love toward these women, but the white population of the town didn’t understand. Would Lily ever find out what happened to her mother all those years ago?

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd is a beautifully written masterpiece in my humble opinion. I loved the writing; the descriptions; the humour sprinkled through the story. There was sadness and love, hope and forgiveness – but ultimately The Secret Life of Bees is the coming of age for a young girl who had more than enough tragedy in her life. I highly recommend this book; my second by this author…
Profile Image for Maciek.
562 reviews3,312 followers
October 18, 2010
The Secret Life of Bees is a cliched soap opera, the sort of book that would provoke rave responses at book clubs composed of mostly bored housewifes. It's a pretty formulaic tale of a young, southern girl whose daddy abuses her, so she decides to run away with her black servant and find solace in an unlikely place.

The story is a reversal of Huck Finn's tale, which results in a schmaltzy schlock. The novel is full of stereotypes - 99% of the white male figures are abusive bastards, the girl's father is an ogre with no redeeming features. As if to get back at all males, all women in this novel are presented as inherently good. There are about 8 mother figures in this book. This may be the reason why the novel is so popular with so many sunday feminist that scour the depths of the internet.

As the novel was written by a white woman, there portrayal of black people is as patronizing as possible. In TSLOB, black people are not people - they are accesories for the white folk to find their way. The author doesn't use any sort of vernacular or vocabulary that would suggest that a black person is speaking (after all, we are talking about the 60's south). We see black people as black only because of their neverending good actions. There are of course the obligatory magical negro figures, the beekeping sisters our heroine reaches early in the novel - they have nothing else to do but sport sage-like advice about the world, bees and honey.

Do you by any chances wonder about the premise? After all, Lily escapes to find the truth about her mother whom she most propably killed, as she remembers holding a gun and a BANG! If you're reading the novel to find out, you might as well give up - Lily's mother is killed off like Bambi's mom to start the story, which turns out to be a patronizing tale about racism. Well, the Civil Rights Movement is an important theme in the novel, and Sue Monk Kidd certainly forces the reader to wish good for these poor black women. However, she makes a mistake of toning down the racist hate - in her world, a group of teenagers of opposite sexes and races driving around the town is never noticed; in real world they would be immediately violently separated, she sent off home and he at best badly beaten. A female black servant responds strongly to three antagonizing white males and even spits on their shoes - such herocism works good in movies, but most propably would have ended less than well for the woman.. All racism comes from the white, of course; there is no single black person opposing to the white girl living with three black women and being in a relationship with a young black man. It works both ways, something which Sue Monk Kidd seems to have forgotten; she fondly remembers Marthin Luther King, but is fast to forget about Malcolm X.

Everything here is washed down; there is absolutely zero ambiguity. Black-good, White-bad. Lily escapes from her own father to be accepted without question by the black women; and in the end she won't care much about her own mother because she found new mother figures, all black of course. And her black boyfriend goes to enroll into a white school. Was that even possible back then? According to the author it was.
The white priest kicks the girl out of church because she led in a black servant, but don't worry about the religious future of the precious infant - there is a Black Madonna, and her black daughters who are more than willing to allow Lily join their club. Gah!

I can see how this book will provoke lots of discussion about its "Interesting topic" (There are classroom questions in my copy!) but it's just shallow, empty and overrated to the max. The story has been done several times and to a much better result - think Harper Lee and Mark Twain.
Steer clear of the "modern classic" - the bee isn't buzzworthy.
Profile Image for A.K..
148 reviews
February 10, 2017
Read this in a couple of hours while I was babysitting. Not always a good sign; particularly when the reason I am looking for material is that the only other house options are natural health and yoga magazines, as I am a dedicated chainsmoker with terrible posture.

Some of the ideas patly blurbed on the back seemed compelling. Mary definitely wasn't a WASP, so that's interesting; beekeeping is fertile for extended metaphor; and tough runaway girlchildren are a favorite, chixploitation or no. But while I was looking for short and sweet plot, this book knocked me about the head with near-narcoleptic tropes about culture, color, gender and otherness. Did you know that every poor white in the south beats their children and/or is criminally negligent? Did you know that black folk are all like, all proud and exotic, even the womenfolk?!? Did you know this is bullshit, Sue Monk Kidd?

It is embarassing for me that this book sees more media attention than the literal hundreds of books in/about the South written with clarity, subtlety, and brutal grace. Some Flannery fucken O'Connor oughta burn that vaseline right off the lens. Growing Up in the South: An Anthology of Modern Southern Literature is an even easier start.

Profile Image for Ashley Daviau.
1,757 reviews754 followers
April 11, 2020
I went into this book with no idea what it was about, I picked it up at the used bookstore ages ago because the title caught my attention and then it got shoved to the back of my shelf and forgotten. I’m so glad I finally read it because as soon as I opened this book I was instantly transported and felt like I fell into a magical realm. Now this isn’t a fantasy book at all but there’s no other way to describe it other than magical because that’s how it made me feel! It’s such a beautiful and touching story about one girls fierce sense of right and wrong and her quest to find out the truth about her mother and I couldn’t have loved it more. And then the incredibly interesting bits about beekeeping were just the icing on the cake!
Profile Image for Charlotte May.
695 reviews1,072 followers
February 11, 2019
"Above all, send the bees love. Every little thing wants to be loved."

I do love this book.
What starts off as a quiet story about a young girl in South Carolina, turns into a strong tale of race, prejudice, and finding love in the most unexpected places.
Lily Owens' mother died when she was 4 from an accident with a gun and Lily has always felt responsible. Her mothers death left her in the care of her abusive father who she calls T-ray and their housekeeper Rosaleen - Lily's only friend.
When racial tension explodes in their local town and Rosaleen is arrested, she and Lily run away, to Tiburon, SC - a place name Lily found on one of her mothers possessions.
Here they find the home of the three Boatwright sisters - August, June and May. They run a beekeeping business and take on the two runaways.
From here comes a tale of discovery, healing and forgiveness - all with the undercurrent of the discrimination and racism that fueled the Southern states in the 1950s. Highly recommended.
January 2, 2020
“You have to find a mother inside yourself. We all do. Even if we already have a mother, we still have to find this part of ourselves inside”

This book simply has everything I love in a historical fiction book, plus, I mean, bees. Aren't they the most amazing, fascinating and incredibly complex animal? So strong and hard-working, but also surviving thanks to the most fragile balance - like women and mothers. Like them, they are fierce to attack who threatens them and their offspring; but are capable of creating the sweetest gift to nourish those who respect, love, and need them.

There are three main reasons why I loved this book: Mother Mary, the bees, and August. A sweet young woman, lost, virtually orphan and burdened with guilt; finds love in the most unlikely of families: a group of sisters of a different skin colour, thousands of hard-working bees, and the heart of the Black Madonna. This story is both wholesome and heartbreaking.

If you love southern literature, strong women who survive abuse and overcome the greatest difficulties for a better life, voices against racism and inequality and families (blood-bound or not), this book is definitely for you!

I am so happy to start my reading year with a 5 star review!!! I loved this book and I already know it's going to be a 2020 favourite. Yay! :)
Profile Image for Calista.
3,869 reviews31.2k followers
December 31, 2020
This is one of my favorite books ever. I love this book. I need to get a list together of my opinion best books. This would be on it. Sue is one of my must authors.

This book introduced me to Sue Monk Kidd's writing. I have all her books now, but Mermaid's Chair and don't need that one. I love her style, her writing and her last 2 books have been amazing. I read this in 2005 and it blew my mind wide opened.

I love the information given with beekeeping and I love how this life is used to help deal with emotional wounds. This book is about healing. As a healer, of course this book appeals to me. The story is rich and the characters are deep. I love the sister in this book. May, June and August are some great women and I love how they work together. It's also a nice flip that this people of color are the ones helping a caucasian person.

There is so much about religion in this book, about the healing power of spirituality. It was also my introduction into the Black Madonna. A few years before this, the Black Madonna had visited me a few times in dreams and so this book resonated with that experience. Every since this book, I have wanted to keep bees on my lilac farm.

The movie was well done and I enjoy that one too, but the experience of reading this is a bit of a healing session on its own.
Profile Image for XxTainaxX Curvy and Nerdy.
1,473 reviews450 followers
July 28, 2016
I really enjoyed the story about a growing girl finding her way during a difficult time in history to the family she was always meant to have. The story is set during the early desegregation period in the US when hostility and resistance to change was the norm. Lily is trying to uncover her mother's past while dealing with some recent trouble with her caretaker Rosaleen. In her quest, she meets three sisters. August, the wise matriarch of the lot. June, the skeptical one. May, the sweet but troubled one. The sisters take her and Rosaleen into their home, becoming more to this girl than you could imagine: a family of choice. There's a controversial love interest with a boy named Zack who is black, Lily being white. Their little moments are sweet and tender. Lily's relationship with her father is complex and sad. She develops beautifully in the story in ways that are very clear to the reader. The plot was interesting and the writer clearly did her research. All in all a great read and a good break from my romances. Safety: Nothing overtly sexual between Lily and Zack. Only kisses. No rape. Yes to physical/emotional abuse.
Profile Image for Kathleen.
887 reviews
February 15, 2019

#########SPOILER ALERT############

5 Bee-utiful stars ⭐️️⭐️️⭐️️⭐️️⭐️️

"Bees have a secret life we don't know anything about."

I read The Secret Life of Bees fifteen years ago and was pleased to reread it for a 'Real Live Book Club'. I enjoyed the beautiful descriptive and sometimes humorous writing about fourteen-year-old Lily Melissa Owens and Rosaleen, her fierce-hearted, black "stand-in mother".

"I'd never been inside a preacher's car before. It's not that I expected a ton of Bibles stacked on the backseat, but I was surprised to see that, inside, it was like anybody else's car."

Lily and her father, she calls him T. Ray, live on a peach farm just outside Sylvan, South Carolina, population 3100, where there are Baptist churches and peach stands. Her life has been shaped around the blurred memory of the afternoon her mother was killed. Deborah Fontanel Owens, her mother, died on December 3, 1954, the day Lily became four-years-old.
When Rosaleen insults three of the deepest racists in town, she and Lily end up in jail. T. Ray comes to take Lily home.

"The speedometer needle on T. Ray's truck wiggled so badly I couldn't make out whether it pointed to seventy or eighty. Leaning into the steering wheel, he jammed his foot onto the accelerator, let off, then jammed it again. The poor truck was rattling to the point I expected the hood to fly off and decapitate a couple of pine trees."

Lily decides to spring Rosaleen free from jail and free herself from T. Ray.

"We started walking. If you think the country is quiet, you've never lived in it. Tree frogs alone make you wish for earplugs."

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.

Our Lady of Chains (Black Madonna)
"Obadiah down on his knees in the mud, bent over the washed-up statue. The statue standing proud in the praise house, Our Lady's fist in the air and all the people coming up one at a time to touch her heart, hoping to find a little strength to go on."
"Well," August said,..."you know, she's really just the figurehead off an old ship, but the people needed comfort and rescue, so when they looked at it, they saw Mary, and so the spirit of Mary took it over. Really, her spirit is everywhere, Lily, just everywhere. Inside rocks and trees and even people, but sometimes it will get concentrated in certain places and just beam out at you in a special way."

"June played[her cello]with her eyes closed, as if May's spirit getting into heaven depended solely on her. You have never heard such music, how it made us believe death was nothing but a doorway."

"The problem[with people]is they know what matters, but they don't choose it. You know how hard that is, Lily? I love May, but it was still so hard to choose Caribbean Pink. The hardest thing on earth is choosing what matters."

While reading THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES I learned facts and folklore about bees and honey.

'"When a bee flies, a soul will rise," he[Zach]said.
I gave him a blank look.
"It's an old saying,"August said. "It means a person's soul will be reborn into the next life if bees are around."'
"Is that in the Bible?" I said.
August laughed. "No, but back when the Christians hid from the Romans down in the catacombs, they used to scratch pictures of bees on the walls. To remind each other that when they died they'd be resurrected."

Lily helped August put black cloths on the hives to remind them that life gives way into death, and then death turns around and gives way into life.

This is a remarkable novel about divine female power, a story that women will share and pass on to their daughters for years to come.
Profile Image for Stephanie ~~.
218 reviews120 followers
May 16, 2019
The use of simile and metaphor in this book, the author's voice, all of it was just astounding. So glad I read it!
Profile Image for tee.
239 reviews244 followers
October 10, 2010
I actually liked this book. I only read the reviews afterwards and noticed that a lot of people complain of the stereotyping, and embarrassingly - I was so in love with the characters that it didn't phase me, I'm ashamed. I did notice that the African Americans were all painted as stereotypes but I figured that the author was just using a voice that kept with the times - back then, that's how everything was seen. But now I feel a little conflicted because god damn, I hate stereotypes and I'm usually the first to jump up-and-down and shake my fist.

I loved Lily, I have been struggling to actually like a protagonist in a novel for a long while, so was pleased when I took to Lily immediately. I think that it was a real honest, true voice of a fourteen year old, you could feel the wide-eyed wonder, the naivity and the angst without it being irritating. I loved how she grew and learned; gained courage and wisdom; without the morals of the story beating you over the head. I absolutely loved August and Rosaleen. To be honest, I loved them all. I was even rooting for Zach and Lily to hook up - it made me feel like a teenage reader again, in parts.

I loved the feminist undertones, these women were strong, capable and gutsy. I love the part where August explains why she never married. I loved how the women's spirituality was dealt with an off-beat 'religion' and even though I'm atheist - I still thought that the way that these women had made sense of the world, was empowering and beautiful. It was rather pagan; peaceful yet powerful. I found most of the book to be highly original and kept reading not only because of Kidd's great use of words, but because I really have not ever read anything like this before! I love unique.

I loved the storyline, I loved the beautiful prose. I think too, that I was so fascinated by this book because it is so far removed from my life and what I know of the world. Being Australian, reading about the South (from Kidd's perspective anyway, taking on board the fact that she stereotypes) was a page-turner for me. Some of the passages in the book were really quite stunning. Here's my favourite paragraph.

Every human being on the face of the earth has a steel plate in his head, but if you lie down now and then and get still as you can, it will slide open like evelator doors, letting in all the secret thoughts that have been standing around so patiently, pushing the button for a ride to the top. The real troubles in life happen when those hidden doors stay closed for too long.
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