Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

A Bee in an Empty Jar

  Lily Owens lived her 14 years ignorant of her mother’s care and hungry for father's love.  She knew nothing beyond Sylvan, South Carolina believes that her life amounts to nothing and that T. Ray’s (her father) abuse and neglect is all there is for her.
“Lily Melissa Owens, your jar is open.”

Lily remembers nothing of her mother, except for one bleak afternoon, when she picked up a gun on the floor and a resounding shot ensued. All her life, Lily blamed herself for killing her mother. Then one afternoon, T. Ray told her that her mother left them both before her death, that she came back only to take her things. The revelation made Lily angry. It was the last straw she would take from T. Ray. 

With determination on her back, Lily packed her mother’s small collection of memento -a picture, an image of a Black Madonna, and a pair of white gloves -smuggled Rosaleen, their black housekeeper, from Police/Hospital custody, and escaped to Tiburon with the hope of learning more about her mother. But when she did, the knowledge burdened her with anguish and self-pity.

“Knowing can be a curse on a person’s life. I’d traded in a pack of lies for a pack of truth, and I didn't know which one was heavier. Which one took the most strength to carry around? It was a ridiculous question, though, because once you know the truth, you can’t ever go back and pick up your suitcase of lies. Heavier or not, the truth is yours now.”

It took more than love for Lily to cope and understand the truth.  Instead, the Boatwright sisters made her experience it. 

“There is nothing perfect,” August said from the doorway. “There is only life.”

I could go on listing all the themes that constitute this book, but I will only point out three (3) outstanding ones. The timeline is in the ’60s, (of course) the first would be Racism. The presence of Rosalee in the story made it more than abundant how civil rights should be pushed and protected. The second theme is Knowledge. Lily braved the quest to Tiburon to know the truth. The truth hurt her, but it completed her, making herself accept a much bigger truth about love, strength, and forgiveness. The third has to be Female Power and Independence. Lily grew up with a father that has no respect for women. She has few role models –Rosaleen and a school teacher. She had no idea what to do with her life until she met the Boatwrights. August taught her that a woman may have a life with or without a man, or marriage. To live a life of freedom without anyone telling her what to do. To enjoy life, because every human being has the right to. 

Sue Monk Kidd has a great talent for beautiful prose. No one can deny that the story is both readable and quotable. Each character had an incredible voice, there is no mistaking their personality, and their development was concrete and convincing. Lily captured my sentiments, and I followed her every emotion, like gum on a shoe –I was crushed. The story was well-paced, with no particular boring part that I can recall. And because of that, I have added Kidd's other books on my Mt. TBR pile. 

Now, here comes that hard part… wherein I have to justify my rating and tell you what I don't like.

The story is set in 1964, right about when the Civil Rights Act was enacted and every colored person was encouraged to register. A time when Martin Luther King was thoroughly advocating for equality and almost every white American is boiling in disdain. We've seen historical pictures of this event, how people marched the streets. This happened in a small town, more or less comprised of 3,100 people at that time. Rosaleen was about to register taking place in a church for a black congregation when she was unfortunately accosted by three white men. Then she was sent to jail, where she was brutally beaten by the same people; then, again, sent to the hospital. What I am trying to say here is that a racial incident just took place, involving a black woman on her way to registration. Where, then, were the black people that should be milling the streets assisting their fellow black coming to register?  Weren't there supposed to be church people from the black congregation assisting Rosaleen all through these? She wasn't spirited into jail or into the hospital in secret, as far as I've read.  I find this story-line simply implausible.  In stories, I truly appreciate well-researched facts, regardless that it is fiction or not. 

I will always say that everyone should respect anyone’s religion. And I stand by that, will always do. The Sisters of Mary and the Black Madonna were elements that hammered the Female Power and Independence theme home. These influenced Lily, and the readers, how powerful a woman can be. It also taught Lily that strength does not come from thin air, it has its source. There has to be a root from where people can take firm and hold. But… yes, there is a but… this femme mystique was not only overly done, but it was also grounded more on the material rather than on the spiritual.  I will not nitpick and cite an example. I know that religion is a delicate matter, and my reason may be invalid for some. I have accepted the fact that I am in the minority here. So, I’ll end it here. 

All in all, THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES is a good read.  So, I will not stop you, if you wish to read it too.   

Book details:
Title:  The Secret Life of Bees
Author:  Sue Monk Kidd
Publisher:  Viking Adult
Publication:   November 8th, 2001
Genre:  Fiction, Coming-of-Age
Source:  Purchased
Rating:  ★★★


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