The Secret Life of Bees was written by Sue Monk Kidd. It was published in 2002 by Penguin Books.
The Secret Life of Bees is a historical fiction book set in the time of the Civil Rights Movement. It began soon after Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law. I feel as though it is a loosely defined historical fiction, as it was really a story of Lily and her anguish over her life circumstances. The only reason it would be classified as historical fiction is because of the time it is set in. There are events that happen that make the reader realize it is not current times, but more on that later.
The main character, Lily, is a young white girl living with her father, T. Ray. We find out early in the book that her mother is dead, and it is hinted that Lily is the one who accidentally killed her mother with her father's gun when she was four years old. The only thing she had of her mother's was a picture of Black Mary with the words Tiburon, South Carolina written on the back. Since that time, she has been raised by Rosaleen, a black peach picker on her father's peach farm. T. Ray was around, but her was an awful father. He made Lily kneel on grits when she misbehaved. The grits tore her knees up to the point she could barely walk. He also hit her and showed her very little love. On Lily's 14th birthday, everything changes. Lily had always been captivated by bees. She caught some in her jar, and realized it had taken them all day to leave the jar when she let them go. That's when she heard a voice. "Lily Melissa Owens, your jar is open. In a matter of seconds I knew exactly what I had to do -- leave. I had to get away from T. Ray, who was probably on his way back this minute to do Lord-knows-what to me. Not to mention I had to get Roseleen out of jail." You see -- Rosaleen had dumped her snuff on white men when they tormented her about wanting to register to vote. After she was arrested, the same men went to the jail and beat her. The police took her to the hospital to get stitches. Lily ran away, stopping at the hospital to help Rosaleen escape. They went to the only place she knew may get her close to her mother -- Tiburon, South Carolina.
Once in Tiburon, Lily saw another picture of the Black Mary. It was the label for a jar of honey. She found that a woman named August made the honey and found her way to August's house. She lied her way into staying there with August and her sister's, May and June (their mother loved spring and summer). She knew her mother had once been at this house, but couldn't bring herself to tell them why she was there. She stayed for almost two months before finally coming clean. She loved August and her sisters, as did Rosaleen. They had become family. She also fell in love with August's worker, Zach. "The whole time we worked, I marveled at how mixed up people got when it came to love. I myself, for instance. It seemed like I was thinking of Zach forty minutes out of every hour, Zach, who was an impossibility." He also knew they couldn't be together. "Lily, I like you better than any girl I've ever known, but you have to understand, there are people who would kill boys like me for even looking at girls like you."
Once Lily felt close enough to August, she told her the truth of why she was there. I will not ruin the book by spoiling everything that happened, but just say that Kidd did a magnificent job of showing how people love each other, family or not.
Like I stated earlier, this book was much more a story of Lily's coming of age than a story of the Civil Rights Movement, but it was such a great story of Lily's coming of age that I'm willing to excuse the fact that it is slightly deceiving as a historical fiction. Kidd wrote the characters with many dimensions. Augusts' sister, June, started off hating Lily. She didn't want to allow her in to the house and tried to convince August to kick her out. "You know she is lying. She doesn't belong her." When August continues to allow Lily to stay, June responds with, "But she's white!" June was bitter towards white people, as she never thought it was right the way whites treated blacks and hated that August worked for a white family when she was younger. By the end of the book, June and Lily were family. During a religious ceremony, June tells Lily, "I'm sorry for the way I treated you when you first got here" and kisses the top of her head.
Lily also changed a lot throughout the book. She started off as a mousy girl who only worried about what others thought of her. She wasn't well-liked at school, and always hoped to grow into someone beautiful. She hadn't felt love for or by anyone since her mother had died. By the end of the book, she was a hard-working, confident young lady who stood up to T.Ray and knew she had a family surrounding her.
If you would like to read more about The Secret Life of Bees, you can find more information and watch the movie trailer at its official website. Once you are hooked and want to read the book, you can find a local copy at Worldcat.