Wow, it’s been quite a while since I posted a book review here! I love analyzing books, characters, authors, et cetera so I’ve written a number of long, thinky posts about those topics, but haven’t actually written any reviews since July. I missed posting them.
“Set in South Carolina in 1964, The Secret Life of Bees tells the story of Lily Owens, whose life has been shaped around the blurred memory of the afternoon her mother was killed. When Lily’s fierce-hearted black ‘stand-in mother’, Rosaleen, insults three of the deepest racists in town, Lily decides to spring them both free. They escape to Tiburon, South Carolina – a town that holds the secret to her mother’s past. Taken in by an eccentric trio of black beekeeping sisters, Lily is introduced to their mesmerizing world of bees and honey, and the Black Madonna.”
I’d seen many positive reviews of The Secret Life of Bees but put off reading it because I still wasn’t sure that I’d like it – it’s so not the type of book I usually enjoy. I am perfectly willing to cry about
Harry Potter , A Song of Ice and Fire, and Doctor Who stories but this seemed a bit soppy. It seemed a bit too touchy-feely, mother-daughter bonding, sensitive-girl-comes-of-age ish to me. And I’ll admit that at times I sighed and thought, “Lily, stop. Stop angsting about boyfriends, boobs, popularity…”
But overall, it wasn’t too soppy. It was emotional (I laughed and cried more than once) but not over the top. Kidd has a great way of fitting words together that makes it so easy to imagine her characters’ world, too. And I loved how the chapters begin with quotes about bees, because they always related to a character or plot point. It was good foreshadowing.
I want to discuss my two problems with the book, then I’ll tell you my favorite part. First of all, I would have liked to know more about the sisters. I want to read about May pre-Bees, as well as August and June post-Bees. Oh, I liked Lily well enough, but she didn’t interest me nearly as much as the sisters. She’s kind of critical, though, being the main character and all, so I couldn’t trade her out in exchange for more scenes with the sisters. I would happily trade Zach, however. He was nice but not really ever much more than that. He wasn’t nearly as complex as, say, May.
Secondly, I struggled with the pacing of the story. It actually started off quite quickly, what with Lily and Rosaleen getting in trouble and then running away, but started to drag during the middle. I spread this book out over four days not because I didn’t have time to read it all at once – it was fall break and I had nothing to do – but because sometimes I got impatient and got up to go do something. I don’t mind books that take their own sweet time, but I do think there’s a difference between a leisurely-paced book and one that just wanders off into whole chapters where nothing really develops. It did get better towards the end, though.
I was struck by how many similarities there were between The Secret Life of Bees and The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth. I love the latter book, so this is naturally my favorite part about the first one. It seems like a weird comparison. I mean, Bees is about a Southern girl who raises bees in the sixties and Miseducation is about a gay girl in Montana in the nineties. Doesn’t seem like they’d have much in common, right?
But I thought they did. Both deal heavily with prejudice – racism and homophobia, respectively. They’re both coming-of-age stories. Both are set in small towns. Both are about breaking unwritten rules. (Lily isn’t supposed to befriend black people and Cameron isn’t supposed to love girls.) They are written in similar styles. That last part is hard to describe; I feel like you wouldn’t understand unless you’ve read both books. But I’ll try anyway: both authors are great at using just the right amount of description. They have characters who are neither completely good nor completely bad. Their main characters have similar voices – a little confused, jaded, and sneaky all at once. Although The Miseducation of Cameron Post is, like, five hundred pages, it still wasn’t long enough for my tastes, so I’m glad to have found another like it.
I would recommend The Secret Life of Bees to anyone who likes historical fiction, especially when such stories are set in more modern times.