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The Secret Life of Bees (book review)

January 6, 2011

The Secret Life of Bees
Sue Monk Kidd
Penguin 2002 302 pages

This has been sitting on my bookshelf for a while. When I started it, I couldn’t remember whether I’d read it before. Reading it in January was a great idea, though. A coming of age novel set in a South Carolina summer in the 60’s is the perfect antidote to gray slush piles and more snow on the way.

This is another book I stayed up far too late reading, because I didn’t want to leave its world. The draw of reading about warm, sweaty climate while waiting for my feet to warm up had to be part of it. The language and imagery were wonderfully musical. I’m going to have to track this down as an audiobook, and add it to my arsenal of things to listen to at night.

Lily is fourteen, aching for the mother she lost when she was a young child. The family housekeeper, Rosaleen, is as frustrating to Lily as she is nurturing. T-Ray, Lily’s father, is a mean bastard, definitely the sort of father it makes sense to call T-Ray instead of “Daddy.”

Running away from home, with Rosaleen in tow, brings Lily to three sisters, named for summer months, who live in a bright pink house and raise bees. May is almost childlike in her joy and fragility. June isn’t sure about taking in a white girl and a black woman busted out of jail. August is just… wonderful. Reading about her teaching Lily about bees made me wish I could be a beekeeper too. (This from a city girl who freezes up at any buzzing insect sound.) The sisters are delightfully odd. And of course, they’re exactly what Lily and Rosaleen need.

Also what I needed. Reading this kind of magical, lyrical, sweet book, makes me feel like everything is going to be okay. It was hard to put down, even though I needed sleep. It was hard to disengage from the mysticism of three black beekeeping sisters, or their welcoming wonderfulness.

It’s going to be hard to figure out what to read next. I’m still half in the dreamy Southern beekeeping world, still expecting those welcoming cadences from my prose. I want to read something that will pull me under its spell that much, in a friendly sort of comforting way. My library list, alas, has been throwing me all the nonfiction I’ve ordered lately. Which is all right. I just have to get into a different mood.

For every book I read in 2011, I’m donating $1 to the New York Public Library.

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