Friday 19 August 2011

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

Fourteen year old Lily is growing up in 1960s South Carolina during the struggle for civil rights.  With her mother dead and her father abusive, the only person Lily feels close to is her black maid, Rosaleen.  When Rosaleen is arrested after a tense altercation about race in town, Lily and Rosaleen go on the run.  They end up staying with a beekeeper and her two sisters, who might have a connection to her mother.  A coming of age story set during one summer, The Secret Life of Bees is a whimsical novel with lots of dreamy qualities.

I wanted to love this book.  I thought the topic was interesting, and the real strength of the book was the way that I got such a sense of time and place.  Sue Monk Kidd really bought alive the South of the time; the suffocating heat and tense atmosphere.  Maybe it's because I read it whilst being in the South myself (now in Atlanta!), but I felt as though I was right there with Lily.  Lily was a good protagonist too - her mood swings and rushes of emotion were consistent with what I can remember of being a teenager.

But I couldn't love this book.  The main problem was that it was too sweet and saccharine.  I know it's written to be 'dreamy', and maybe it's my stiff-upper-lip Britishness coming out, but there was too much sentimentality for me.   There was too much discussion of empowering your spirit and being a strong woman for me.  I agree with all of the sentiments, and thought August was a wonderful character, it was just a bit much for me. I also found it hard to believe that everything would have worked out as well as it did, especially the resolution with Lily's father at the end.

I did enjoy the book and it was hard to put down, but it's not one I would pick up again.

Verdict: Evocative descriptions of the South of the 1960s but a bit sickly sweet.
Source: Owned
Score: 3.5 out of 5


  1. I love this film but for some no reason have no desire to pick up the book! x

  2. I've passed up this book several times in bookstores but I didn't pick it up because, from all I've heard, it sound a bit too Oprah to me. I'm glad it wasn't a complete waste of time though. Maybe i'll check it out at the library.

  3. I have a copy of this I'm yet to read - it does sound really sweet, but I admit I have wondered if it is a bit saccharine. This period and place in history to me seems really awful and full of tensions and discriminations and violence and I find these kinds of stories incongruous with the setting - a bit like how I felt about The Help. Still, I will read it eventually, mostly from curiosity as it is so well known. Also, very cool that you read this while in the place it was set!

  4. Beth - I actually think this would be better as a film, it was one of those books that read like a film script.

    Che - It is a very Oprah book, be warned if that's not your thing!

    Mummazappa - The story is a bit incongruous with the setting and there isn't always a bit sense of danger. At one point Lily is driving alone with a black teenage boy, which surely you couldn't have done without some serious trouble in the South of the 60s? And I admit, I read it because I wanted some reading material to match where I am :P

  5. Thanks for your honesty. I have been contemplating this book from my TBR list but haven't tried it out yet. I'm not one for sentimental overload either as it tends to take something away from the writer's style and comes off as juvenile. I'll wait this one out or maybe drop it altogether.

  6. Teacher/Learner - It was an OK read, but to be honest I wouldn't recommend it over the lots of many other good books out there. Maybe just watch the film? :P

  7. I enjoyed this book while I was reading it, but looking back I have a hard time remembering much about it. I can't remember the resolution with her father at the end. So...while I thought I liked it, it obviously didn't stick with me.

  8. I enjoyed the film version, but haven't read the book. I don't think I will after reading your review.

    (By the way, completely off topic, but I noticed you are reading Gone with the Wind. I just watched the movie version a couple of nights ago and can't wait to hear what you think of the book. I haven't read the book...)

  9. I read this one a few years ago, but like Susan it doesn't really stand out in my mind as a favorite. I remember thinking it was good but not great. Maybe I should see the film version someday!

  10. Susan - It is quite forgettable, isn't it? I don't think it will stick with me either.

    Kate - I think it would be a better book than film. Gone with the Wind is a reread for me, I first read it a few years back and love it. You should give it a go, it's better than the film!

    Bailey - I think it would be better as a film...

  11. I did love this book, but I think that it might be partially because the Calendar Sisters remind me of my awesomely crazy aunts (one of whom has even taken to beekeeping!).