The Secret Life of Bees
by Sue Monk Kidd
The Secret Life of Bees is the story of Lily Owens, fourteen years old in the summer of 1964. Lily’s mother is dead, and she is somewhat precariously cared for by her abusive father and black housekeeper Rosaleen. Lily, a social outcast and loner, spends a great deal of her time thinking about her mother and her own participation in her mother’s tragic death. Until Rosaleen tries to register to vote and gets beaten and jailed. Lily rescues her, and they must leave town, fugitives from the law. Lily decides to go search of her mother’s past though the only clue she has is a Black Madonna icon with the town name Tilburton, South Carolina stamped on the back.
Lily’s search leads her to a group of woman whose lives are focused by a female theology centered on Our Lady of the Chains, their private title for the Blessed Virgin. Here Lily and Rosaleen find not only safety but the sweetness of life symbolized by the honey production of three sisters known as “the calendar girls.” But they find that even in safety, no one is protected from pain. However, the spirituality of the sisters – from the wailing wall to the Mary Day ritual – gives these women strength and hope and joy.
The Secret Life of Bees was recently made into a film starring Dakota Fanning as Lily, Queen Latifah as August and Jennifer Hudson as Rosaleen.