My motivation for reading this book was to get it off my shelf and back on my neighbor’s, who had lent it to me months before. Coupled with the fact that she also brought me a plate of pure sex for Christmas (no one makes better cookies than her), I was beginning to feel like a really lousy neighbor. “But my dog ocassionally tears into your yard, screaming for Kiki the Poodle to come out” I want to scream (let’s ignore the fact that he probably doesn’t want to play with her). That’s neighborly, right? Okay, maybe I have some work to do. Well, at least I can return her book now.
The Secret Life of Bees is the story of Lily, a 14 year old girl, growing up in the South in the 60’s. She finds herself in Tiburon, South Carolina, after having run away with her nanny Rosaleen from an unloving father. Lily believes that Tiburon holds the clues to her mother’s past, something Lily’s memories and her father have revealed little about. In Tiburon, Lily and Rosaleen are taken in by the Boatwright sisters, a beekeeping trio with an eclectic lifestyle.
Oh, and Rosaleen and the Boatwrights are all black. Why does this matter? Well, the setting is 1964 and President Johnson has just signed the Civil Rights Act. Lily isn’t the only one running away, Rosaleen is also escaping some trouble she got into on her way to register to vote. If the fact that Lily is living with four Aftican American women isn’t enough to turn heads (and it is), Rosaleen’s legal trouble is.
What I like about this book is that there is a lot of potential for drama, given the year, the location, and the character’s themselves. It was this potential that made me uneasy about a lot of things while I was reading. But Kidd has a nice balance of good and bad. She doesn’t capitalize on all the possible (and sometimes obvious) storylines.
Her characters, although I felt not fully fleshed out, were memorable. She created a unique world that existed in the Boatwright’s pink house, complete with their own livelihood and religion. Her descriptions of life at their home, the daily work, the church services, the celebrations, and the trials, made me want to be right there while everything happened.
Turns out, a movie was made in 2008 with Dakota Fanning, Queen Latifah, and Alicia Keys. I would never have been interested in this movie if I hadn’t first read the book. Now, I think I’ll actually see it. I’d love to see Kidd’s characters come to life on the screen.
So in all, a strong book. A bit of a girl power vibe, but I’m a girl and don’t mind that kind of thing (every now and then). It wasn’t a life-changing book, but a well-told story. Something I might recommend to, say a neighbor, for a *quick* summer read.
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