Book Review

 


The Secret Life of Bees book cover
The Secret Life of Bees

Author: Sue Monk Kidd
Publisher: Penguin
Page Count: 302 (paperback)

By Rev. Dee Dee Azhikakath

(UMC.org) -- I am allergic to bee stings. I don’t even like honey in my Starbuck’s chi tea. Every part of me is urbanized and globalized. And so, I really have no business reading a book about bees and a 1964 small town in America. Yet, I couldn’t put down the heart-warming and introspective book. Sitting on the New York Times Best-Seller List for several weeks now, it seems many people have been unable to put it down as well. Not bad for an author’s first stab at a novel, which also picked up the Orange Prize in England. Impatient with the 84 people on the waiting list in front of me at my local library, I decided to buy the book and devoured every sweet drop of it one weekend.  

The Secret Life of Bees is less about bees than it is about discovering secrets -- the good ones and the bad. Lily Owens is a 14 year-old white girl who sets out to find the secrets of her mother who was killed when she was a child. After surviving a childhood that would cause any 21st Century social worker to intervene, Lily reaches a threshold with her cold and strong-armed father, breaks Rosaleen, her black “nanny,” out of jail, and heads to the town of Tiburon, S.C. simply because it was written on the back of a “black Mary” picture which belonged to her mother. When arriving, Lily, with Rosaleen in tow, invites herself to stay with the calendar sisters; three eccentric black women whose business is bees. During her stay, Lily learns about the honey business, falls color-blindedly in love, discovers the demons that haunt her, but more importantly, finds the forgiveness and love to which every person seeks.

On a journey to search for the secrets of her past, Lily grows spiritually and mentally, enabling her to actually learn to love herself the way Christ and the calendar sisters do.

How could a child have any self-esteem when the only marks of parenting left on her were the scars of kneeling on grits for hours?
Living with her father, whom Lily called T. Ray, she grew up without hugs and “I love yous.” That is barely bearable, but Lily also carried the burden of her mother’s death on her shoulders as well. The memory of her mother dying in front of her and feeling she was the cause is a burden too heavy for any person to carry. Imagination, creativity, education and spirituality were stripped from Lily’s life. She went through the motions of going to school, working at the peach stand and even going to church, but opinions and development were discouraged. How could a child survive in an environment like this? How could a child have any self-esteem when the only marks of parenting left on her were the scars of kneeling on grits for hours?

Imago Dei. Image of God. Even as a minister I am left wondering how God could send an innocent child who is made in the Creator’s image to T. Ray’s house. Like the Israelites in the wilderness, God was with Lily. One night in her ordinary room, God spoke to Lily saying “Lily Melissa Owens, your jar is open.” From this moment on, her journey changed from a girl day-dreaming of running away to one on the brink of womanhood running toward her identity with an unexplained trust. 

Being a teenager is tough. Being a white teenager running from the law and your father, and living with three black women in the south during 1964 is really tough. Although this might not sound like most of our childhoods, Lily’s journey has a similarity to which everyone can relate. On the journey we call life we all encounter things we are ashamed of, burdens we are forced to bear and faced with a unpredictable future. Only through our faith in God are we able to continue on this journey. 

Despite never using the word Christ, the Daughters of Mary certainly displayed more Christ-like be-havior and offered the very thing Christ offers the rest of us sinners.
The calendar sisters have a unique iconodule based faith that empowers Mary, but might raise a few eyebrows around some theological circles. Yet, Lily spiritually grows more with the Daughters of Mary in a few months than she did sitting on a segregated church pew for years with T. Ray. The Daughters of Mary offered her love so she could learn how to love. The Daughters of Mary offered her forgiveness so she could learn to forgive herself and even eventually T. Ray. 

Despite never using the word Christ, the Daughters of Mary certainly displayed more Christ-like behavior and offered the very thing Christ offers the rest of us sinners. While Lily may not have known what she would find in Tiburon, S.C., by the end of the book, you will realize she found her most important gifts from God: love and herself.

Share your comments about this book with other readers.

The Rev. Dee Dee Azhikakath is both a young adult and an associate minister at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Tucson, Ariz.

Please be aware that when you purchase a copy of this book through UMC.org, you are directly supporting this ministry.



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