The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
I had heard a lot of good things about this book and was excited to read it. As I started reading, I really didn’t see anything special about it and by the end I was downright annoyed at wasting my time. Part of the problem was that I only read about 70% of the book, often finding myself skimming over sickly sweet passages and sometimes even skipping pages all together because I couldn’t handle any more of the tiring prose. Part of me wants to say that I just couldn’t relate to the 14 year-old narrator but that isn’t fair to the many books with young narrators that I love such as A Wrinkle in Time or I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. As I was reading the book, I couldn’t quite figure out why I disliked it so much but it became very clear to me when I went to the Amazon reviews for the book after reading it. I have quoted the review that most spoke to me below in the “Don’t Read If” section below. Overall this book seemed an insult to my intelligence and a fine example of poor writing and the commercialization of fiction.
Even with all its faults I still think this is a good book for teenage girls. (as long as you explain to them this is not a good portrayal of life in the South during the 60s) Lily struggles with issues of abandonment, low self-esteem and loneliness which I think are very contemporary issues. She resolves these struggles by accepting that mothers come into our lives in many forms.
“If all you want from a novel is a simple, entertaining read with a happy ending, then please run --don't walk-- to buy The Secret Life of Bees.”
Don’t Read If:
“I cannot imagine African-American women having the slightest interest in this story. It is a white child's Uncle Remus fantasy, and it makes me sad that readers could possibly imagine it would be meaningful to women of color. Most would find it tiresome and even offensive.”
“This was South Carolina in the 1960's, how in the world would a white girl have lived with these black women for all that time? How would she have managed to drive around with a black boy and not be pulled over by the police or caused him to be strung up? How did these black women never say a thing to her about getting involved with him? They would have lived under Jim Crow for too many years to have not seen it as a safety issue. And how did these black women (and their female ancestors) manage to keep this land and honey business going, all the while selling to white people? No one ever came to harass them, used racial slurs, nothing? Where was that struggle? There were probably some places August couldn't have even walked the front door of, much less convinced to sell her products. It just became more and more ludicrous to me as the book went on. Scenes in the beginning of the book showed a small portion of what it was like to be black in the south, but in general there was a lack of racial awareness and seemingly a knowledge of history on Ms. Kidd's part that frustrated and angered me.”