Set in the American South in 1964, a year of increasing racial unrest, The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd is a powerful story of the ability of love to transform our lives, and the story pays great tribute to the feminine and the strength of sisterhood. The issues of loss, betrayal, and the scarcity of love, and the healing of those wounds are demonstrated powerfully when a group of women come together to mother each other and themselves, and to create a sanctuary of comradeship, and family.
Lily Owens is a fourteen year old girl living on an isolated South Carolina peach farm with a neglectful and harsh father. To make matters worse, her father, T. Ray, tells Lily that she accidentally killed her mother, Deborah, who died when Lily was four years old amidst mysterious circumstances. Lily has vague recollections of this time but cannot distinguish between what she really remembers and what her father has convinced her is true. What she does know is that she misses her mother dearly and longs for her mothers love.
Lily is raised by Rosaleen, who is a proud and outspoken African-American nanny. When Rosaleen attempts to exercise her newly won right to vote in the 1964 elections, she is attacked by the three worst racists in town and is thrown into jail on charges of assault. Lily, determined to save the badly wounded Rosaleen from a terrible fate and finally escape her own father, attempts free Rosaleen from jail. It works and the two set out across South Carolina in search of a new life.
Lily has only one thing to guide her on her journey, a picture which belonged to her mother and is one of the precious few possessions she has of hers. The cryptic picture is of a black Virgin Mary and has the words "Tiburon, South Carolina" written on the back of it. This becomes Lily and Rosaleen's destination. When they arrive in the small town of Tiburon, Lily sees the same Black Madonna adorning several bottles of honey jars at a diner. She and Rosaleen go to find the woman who makes it, August Boatwright, who lives with her sisters: May, who is still very traumatized about the death of her twin sister April and there is also June, who is an ardent feminist.
The three women take Lily and Rosaleen under their wing and although June has reservations at first about living with a white runaway girl under their roof, what develops between them all is a story of self discovery, coming of age, love, sisterhood, forgiveness and mothers lost and found.
This book was in my Top 3 favourites of 2009. I loved the way the characters were drawn and descriptions of the heat and blistering South Carolina summer landscapes were so convincing I could almost smell the peaches on Lily's home farm and hear the bees chatting to each other in their hives. I was very pleased to hear that there had been a film made of this book so, of course, I had to find it. It did not disappoint either, which is unusual for a film of a great book, in my experience. The film cast was excellent though with Dakota Fanning, Queen Latifah, Alicia Keys, Sophie Okenedo and Jennifer Hudson.
If you can't find the book, do look out for the film, it really is a wonderfully inspiring story and made me want to immediately set up a sisterhood of my own!!
Has a story ever made inspired you to do something you perhaps wouldn't have otherwise done?