Published: 2003 by Penguin Books
Genres: Fiction (General)
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Every now and then, I run across a book that tells a story well but at the same time really makes me think. “The Secret Life of Bees” is one of them.
The novel begins in the 1960s with the passage of the Voting Rights Act. The protagonist, a young girl named Lily, accompanies her housekeeper Rosaleen into town so that she can register to vote. Some racist men from town try to keep Rosaleen from registering to vote, and she stands up for herself, culminating in her arrest. Meanwhile, Lily faces troubles of her own at home, as her mother died in an accident with a gun years before, and her father is mildly abusive. Lily decides to help Rosaleen escape, and the two run away together. They end up finding refuge with the Boatwrights, a family of three black beekeeping sisters. Living with the Boatwrights causes Lily to challenge her own ideas about race, as the Boatwrights are very intelligent and eccentric. During her stay with them, Lily realizes that for the first time in her life, she is in a loving home. August Boatwright teaches Lily about beekeeping while imparting life lessons. The novel is, in essence, a coming of age story, but set against a backdrop of social unrest.
The Boatwright sisters remind me a bit of my own aunts, who are equally as eccentric and awesome (one of my aunts even tried beekeeping). There is a focus in the novel on strong female characters, and on the strength of community.
I really liked the tone of the novel as well. Depressing and sad things do happen, but the story ends with a great deal of hope for the future.
There’s also a 2008 movie version of the novel. I did enjoy the film tremendously, but I still preferred the book. I would highly recommend either the book or the movie.