Living with intent, social engagement, learning, growing, giving
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd is a simple story that is easy to read. There are a couple of scenes that deal with the issues of racism, bigotry, violence, intolerance and segregation in the southern USA in 1964 (the year of the signing of the Civil Rights Act by President Johnson). Otherwise it is a coming-of-age story filled with teen angst and the longing for acceptance and love that is so much stronger in teenagers whose parent died when they were young. I think that the depictions of the hormonal rollercoaster of teenagehood are the best aspects of this otherwise lightweight book.
A barge of mist floated along the water, and dragonflies, iridescent blue ones, darted back and forth like they were stitching up the air.
The majority of the story finds the protagonist Lily in a conveniently safe and loving home with strangers who accept her and wrap her in their love. I didn’t find the writing style particularly special, the language particularly beautiful or the story particularly captivating. I didn’t learn much except for some trivia about bees.
We lived for honey. We swallowed a spoonful in the morning to wake us up and one at night to put us to sleep.
Despite the sad and frightening events (e.g. the ‘written for film’ finale with her father) that occurred in the book I didn’t experience any emotions which indicates to me that something was lacking in the writing style. I wouldn’t know how to write such material either but many authors can achieve tear-jerking scenes even without the book having much merit so I’m surprised that The Secret Life of Bees sold so well.
Most people don’t have any idea about all the complicated life going on inside a hive. Bees have a secret life we don’t know anything about.
I saw similarities with the Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, with eccentric women doing strange, irreverent and fun things. It was the Daughters of Mary that held the most interest in the story and without them I would not have persisted even though it is the chosen book for my book group this month. Many of the male characters are poorly formed and some of the interactions are mysterious and unexplained, like the warmth of the solicitor towards Lily.
I kept waiting for the Policeman to return after saying that he would come back and Lily had better not be there. I wonder if Monk Kidd forgot about that threat? The running away/settling in with the Boatwrights/the revelation about her mother’s close link to the Boatwrights/the ending with her father was very convenient and cute and unbelievable. I wanted more conflict which would lead to resolution which would lead to catharsis. Why didn’t Monk Kidd deliver that after peaking way too early in the captivating scene with Rosalee and a pot of black saliva?
I suspect that this book sold well in the USA because of the saccharine way that it deals with apartheid. I think that Monk Kidd included the scenes related to the declaration of the Civil Rights Act to increase sales. The film 12 Years a Slave is so much more riveting!
I read it all in 24 hours while in transit from Australia to the Middle East and it distracted me from the discomforts of such a trip. If you need to take a break from real life then this book may provide you with some respite.