This is not a book I chose, but one which I read as a member of the Journey Book Group. On the cover it says “The Phenomenal Number One Best-seller”. Number one best-seller! If it is, it is, and I can’t argue with that but “Phenomenal”, that is subjective and so I was sceptical. I was wrong. I loved this book. It took me a couple of weeks to read it and yes, I know some people read books in a couple of days. A couple of weeks is quite quick reading for me.
Set in 1964, in the summer when racial tensions were high, after America’s President Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act, Sue Monk-Kidd‘s book is a moving account of how 14 year old Lily Melissa Owens escapes from her tyrannical father, and the law. That escape is not the end of her troubles, but for Lily it is the beginning of redemption when, through sheer blind chance (or was it?), she finds her way to the home of the Boatwright sisters, who I called the calendar girls, because they were named after months of the year.
Living with May, June and August, Lilly finds something she has not known in many, many years; happiness and love, but not only those things, she also finds a place of belonging. It transpires eventually that, August Boatwright had looked after Lily’s mother, Deborah Fontanel (nee Owens), when she had been a child. It is there with the sisters that Lily begins to piece together her own past and find out about her mother.
Lily’s mother had been killed when Lily was just four years old, shot in an accident involving Lily, her father, Deborah and a gun. Rosaleen, the Owens’ maid, had become like a surrogate mother to Lily and was, until Lily’s escape, possibly the only person who really cared for her and who made her life with T. Ray, which is how Lily referred to her father, bearable.
Whilst an easy book to read, it makes some valid points about race, colour and our perceptions, and pre-conceptions around race relations. Even without the context of race, The Secret Life of Bees shows how friendships and relationships can grow, change and evolve with time..
The Times called the book “Charming, funny, moving” I also found it to be heart-warming and thought provoking. I rarely read a book twice; this one I will.
Written in 2002, The Secret Life Of Bees was made into a film in 2008, starring Dakota Fanning, Queen Latifah and Jennifer Hudson. I have not seen it yet but it apparently had mixed reviews.
Lily – “But I will tell you this secret thing, which not one
of them saw, not even August, the thing that brought
me the most cause for gladness. It was how Sugar-Girl
said what she did, like I was truly one of them.”