Book Review: The Secret Life of Bees

Book Review: The Secret Life of Bees

The Secret Life of Bees is a novel written by award-winning author Sue Monk Kidd. Lily Owens, a young white girl living in the South in 1964, is the main character of the book. She was raised by her abusive father, T. Ray, and Rosaleen, an African-American woman who acts as her “stand-in mother,” since Lily accidentally killed her mother when she was young. 

One day, Rosaleen attempts to vote in a presidential election but instead is attacked and assaulted by three racist men. Lily and Rosaleen flee to the town of Tiburon, South Carolina, a place that was important to Lily’s mother. Three black beekeeping sisters take them in. While staying with them, Lily is immersed in their culture and learns more about her mother’s past. 

This charming novel shows how powerful the bonds between women are. There are so many examples of strong female role models. The Secret Life of Bees also includes the prominent themes of racism and trust. Lily trusts and is trusted by the women she encounters, though their skin may be a different color than hers. 

An issue with this story is the fact that Rosaleen, a black woman, is portrayed as reliant on Lily, a white girl, since Lily “saves” her multiple times. This enforces the “white savior narrative,” a literary stereotype that white characters “save” the people of color in their lives, or that people of color are helpless and need to rely on white people to succeed.

Overall, The Secret Life of Bees is a captivating and quick read.  People of all ages and backgrounds can relate to the characters. Though the story is fictional, the main ideas are still prominent in our culture today.