Great White Snark

Sunday, April 14, 2013

I just finished reading The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, and I have to say, it was an astoundingly good novel.

It's not usually a genre I favor, but I'm really enjoying the miniature foray I've taken into Southern chick lit recently. Maybe it's because I'm a g.r.i.t.s. myself, or because the South just has such a unique flavor, but I really enjoyed this book, along with the ones I've read by Sarah Addison Allen and Rebecca Wells. 

The Secret Life of Bees is about Lily, a 14 year old girl who lives with her abusive father in the wake of having accidentally shot her mother as a 4 year old. I'm not even kidding.

A lot of things happen, but she and her black maid run away from her father and end up in a pepto bismol pink house of 3 black beekeepers, who sell their "Black Madonna" honey (so called because they label it with a picture of a black Virgin Mary). 

Did I mention that the year is 1964 and the Civil Rights Law had just been passed?

While the overarching theme of this book is, of course, black rights and the controversy of a white girl living with four black women, I would say it's only part of the novel. The real story is Lily coming to peace with her past and her struggle to find out what she can about her mother. The truth isn't pretty, and the end of the novel is hard to swallow. You really feel Lily's pain as she makes unsavory discoveries about her mother's past (and therefore, her own). Or at least I did. But in a touching turn, Lilly ends up with many amazingly loving mothers--who are just as colorblind towards her as she is to them. 

It's a really moving story, and I loved it. I also liked the Marian mysticism of the story. The black women aren't exactly Catholic. They invent their own religion based around the Virgin Mary (there are a few scenes that are downright blasphemous, but it's played off in a lighthearted way, and they ultimately reveal that they know Jesus is "the main guy."), and of course, the honey they sell is called Black Madonna Honey. But it's neat because Lilly, formerly completely un-religious, comes to adopt Mary as yet another surrogate mother, and I think that's what she's really there for--to be a mother to the motherless, or when we have a hard time accepting our earthly mothers. So I liked that spin on religion in the book, too.

What really makes this book are the characters. Every single one is so deep, you feel like you're reading a biography. Even the minor characters, even Lily's dead mother, have such a fullness to them that you can't help but think they're real. The main ones, though--Lily, Rosaleen, August, May, and June--are so realistic that you wish so badly you could go and talk to them when the story's over. 

Overall, it's so good. I definitely recommend it. Not sure if my gentlemen readers would appreciate it as much as my lady readers, but if you want something along the lines of The Help, you must check it out.

Just SOME of my favorite quotes:

“There is nothing perfect...only life.” 

"I realized it for the first time in my life: there is nothing but mystery in the world, how it hides behind the fabric of our poor, browbeat days, shining brightly, and we don't even know it.” 

“Actually, you can be bad at something...but if you love doing it, that will be enough."

“People who think dying is the is the worst thing don't know a thing about life.” 

"People, in general, would rather die than forgive. It's that hard. If God said in plain language, "I'm giving you a choice, forgive or die," a lot of people would go ahead and order their coffin.” 

“Everybody needs a seashell in her bathroom to remind her the ocean is her home.” 

“There's a fullness of time for things, Lily. You have to know when to prod and when to be quiet, when to let things take their course.” 

" ...when it's time to die, go ahead and die, and when it's time to live, live. Don't sort-of-maybe live, but live like you're going all out, like you're not afraid.” 

Note: The movie version of this was okay. The casting, apart from Queen Latifah and Sophie Okonedo, was terrible, but they did a pretty good job in keeping parts of the script verbatim from the book. 

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