The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd (Book Review)

The Secret Life of BeesThe Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked up a used copy of this book for less than a dollar, figuring I’d love it after stumbling across The Invention of Wings. I’m of two minds on this one, this one being a coming-of-age-discovering-the-feminine-divine story in the South, just after the 1964 Civil Rights Act has been signed into law.

What I liked: The writing is poetic. Kidd can turn a phrase, make me smell the honey, feel the thick humidity. The characters are well-developed and I loved them; the plotting and pacing are tight. The story pulled me in and kept me in; I had a hard time putting it down.

What I didn’t like: I have a hard time picturing the scene with Zach and Lily in the truck going down as it did. I daresay a black boy, who has just gotten out of a pickup truck in which he was driving a white girl, and is now standing with a group of other black boys, one of whom has just thrown a broken bottle and drawn a white man’s blood, would certainly not be politely taken off to jail. I daresay he would have had the living shit beat out of him, at least once. The hatred and violence seemed written like a Monet landscape, like watching a violent storm through gauzy curtains. It is skillfully done, and it highlights the sense of peace and safety surrounding the pink Boatwright house, but I’m still not sure that works for me, romanticizing something as ugly as racism and basic human rights. I also didn’t care for the stereotyping. In this book, with few exceptions, white people are bad, black people are good; women are strong and nurturing and wise, men are abusive dickheads.

That’s not to say it’s not worth reading; it definitely is, for the wordsmithing alone. It just shied away from a tied-up-with-a-perfect-bow happy ending, which I appreciated; a good coming-of-age story does not magically lift away the protagonist’s struggles. The voice of the heroine, 14-year-old Lily, is very real, naive but not childish, full of longing and humor. The science and lore of bees are delightful, I loved the Black Madonna, and I really loved how they were intertwined into an earthy spirituality that needs no official church building. Do read it, but be aware you are looking at an ugly part of America’s history through pink-tinted lenses. Goodreads doesn’t allow half-stars, so this is rounded up to four.

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Author: Deborah Lee

I like trees, dreaming, magic, books, paper, floating, dreaming, rhinos, rocks, stargazing, wine, dragonflies, trains, and silence to hear the world breathe.

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