Caroline Dotson: ‘The Secret Life of Bees’ is charming
November 1, 2008
Books are made into movies now more than ever. My long list of books to review is mostly of books that are or will be made into a movie.
“The Secret Life of Bees,” by Sue Monk Kidd, recently came out as a major motion picture. This book is charming and full of women who love and nurture one another. It is easy to see why there was interest for it to be made into a movie.
In the story, 14-year-old Lily faces a harsh reality: At the age of 4, she accidently shot and killed her mother, Deborah. She is left with a father who is abusive and an uneducated black nanny, Rosaleen. Lily cherishes three objects that were once her mothers: a glove, a picture of her mother, and a picture of a black Madonna with Tiburon, South Carolina written on the back.
It was 1964, and President Johnson had just signed the Civil Rights Act. Rosaleen, a strong-willed woman, decided she would register to vote, which was now her right. She ends up in a confrontation with three racist white men who beat her up; then she is thrown in jail. Lily manages to break Rosaleen out of jail, and off they go to start a new life.
Without any other obvious destination, they head to Tiburon, S.C. Upon arriving in the new town, Lily goes into the general store and sees a picture of the black Madonna on a jar of honey. She asks the clerk about the honey’s maker, and she is directed to the house of three sisters: August, June and May – the Calendar sisters.
The sisters take Lily and Rosaleen in but don’t believe the stories Lily tells them. Lily helps with the honey making, and Rosaleen helps May around the house.
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During the next few months, Lily learns everything she can about bee keeping and honey making. She develops a crush on the boy who helps August with honey production, and she begins to uncover secrets of her mother’s past.
As the summer draws to an end, Lily knows her fantasy life is about to end, too. She finally tells August the truth about how she and Rosaleen came to Tiburon. In return, August reveals how her own life and Deborah’s intertwined before Lily’s birth. August was Deborah’s black nanny, and August cared for her the way Rosaleen cares for Lily.
By September, Lily’s father traced her and Rosaleen to Tiburon. He arrives in a rage to reclaim Lily; the Calendar sisters stand strong and do not allow him to take Lily away. The book ends with Lily understanding more about her mother’s past and Lily being surrounded by the kind of mother love she had been missing most of her life.
I love how this book is filled with women who have found a strong bond between one another and who are willing to share that strength with a young girl who is lost. There are many soulful moments in the book; I hope the big screen is able to capture them all.