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4.5 out of 5 stars774
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on 31 January 2009
A truly charming book, wonderfully written, moving and heart-warming with a spiritual core. The main character is Lily, a motherless teenager who has been brought up by her bitter, angry father. Lily's journey to find something or someone to answer the questions and fill the gap that her mother's death has left within her takes her to a mesmerizing, soulful place in the American south. The year is 1964 and the civil rights act has just been signed which adds more tension to the story and provides an inspired backdrop to Lily's journey. The desciptions are beautiful, I could smell the honey, hear the bees and feel the heat. The characters are full and August Boatwright in particular is one I wish I knew in real life. Lily's thoughts and her anguish are written so well I was reading through tears. This is a moving story but not maudlin or depressing one, it is uplifting, full of heart and inspiration. Just a little footnote, if you enjoyed reading this I recommend you read A Gathering Light by Jennifer Donnelly too.
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on 8 April 2003
Forget the title - this is a heart-wrenching, beautiful book and I urge you to read it, whatever your usual reading matter. The narrator of this novel, Lily, grows up unloved and believing that she accidentally killed her mother at the age of four. She starts her story "the summer I turned fourteen", and Sue Monk Kidd perfectly captures the awkward restlessness of the teenager, longing for love, yearning to discover the truth and fearful of what will emerge. The casual references to racial attitudes in South Carolina in 1964 are shocking, and the unique beekeeping sisters she finishes up with stay with you and haunt you long after you finish the book. Poignant and humorous by turns, the tale brought tears to my eyes on several occasions, something which has never happened before in my wide reading history. An added bonus are the wonderful facts you will learn about bees... I really can't recommend this book strongly enough!!!
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on 28 January 2005
I have made it a point of reading inspirational books which can help me have a positive outlook to life. Though it reads like a non-fictional memoir, "The Secret Life of Bees" even though it is fictitious, has been tremendously helpful to me as an inspirational book. It is brilliantly written with amazing details and beautiful settings. It showed the unique creativity of the author. This hard to put down book, is sure to capture your heart with its imagery.

Sue Monk Kidd does a brilliant job of laying out a storyline that is not only believable, but is interesting as well. I could not put this book down. Lily Owens will capture your heart. Despite the abuse from the hands of her father T. Ray, she turned out to be a survivor. Sharing her destiny with the beekeeping sisters, and their Black Madonna honey, she finally attains some emotional security in her life. May, one of the sisters is someone who inspires. This is a novel for young adults and adults, because at 14, Lily fights with the hazy memory of her dead mother whom she misses and longs for in rural South Carolina of 1964, where racial violence is inescapable. She finds solace in her surrogate mother - the family's black servant, Rosaleen, who later becomes a victim of racial hatred. It moved on to the escape of Lily and Rosaleen, the search for the identity of Lily's mother's identity and the quest for a sense of belonging in her life This journey led Lily and Rosaleen into the lives of three strange but alluring beekeepers who set Lily who helped Lily to grow up and be at peace with her family and its history.

The story is told through Lily's eyes, mouth, mind and heart, and as such it is deep, hilarious and inspiring. When we read about the beehive and honey-making, we get the sense that Lily has a deep desire for nurturance, owing to the absence of a mother in her life. The Secret Life of Bees will certainly strike a chord with any family.I recommend :The Usurper and Other stories, Tractor in Ukrainian,Disciples of Fortune , The Mermaid Chair. I also enjoyed them.
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This New York Times best selling novel is a beautifully written, coming of age story, set in rural South Carolina in 1964 against the back drop of the civil rights movement. It is the touching story of a young white girl, fourteen year old Lily Owens, whose mother died in a tragic accident when Lily was about four. Lily lives with her father, a harsh man with whom no love is lost, on a peach farm outside Sylvan, South Carolina. Her mother's death stands between them.
Neglected by her father, Lily is brought up by Rosaleen, a big-hearted black woman, who loves Lily and whom Lily loves. Yet, hers is a lonely existence, compounded by her unquenched thirst for information about her mother, Deborah. All she has left of her mother are some cloudy memories and a box containing a few mementos, among them a picture of a Black Madonna, inscribed with the words, "Tiburon, S.C."
When Rosaleen goes into town to register to vote, she feels empowered by the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and has a run-in with the town's three biggest racists, resulting in Rosaleen being taken into custody. Lily arranges for her to break free. Together, they seek sanctuary in Tiburon, South Carolina, where Lily discovers the mystery of the Black Madonna. Taken in by a trio of middle-aged black women who are sisters, as well as beekeepers, Lily is introduced to the secret life of bees and begins to learn some important life lessons. She also learns something about her mother and finds love where she least expected.
This is simply a beautifully realized novel, written in a true Southern voice by a wonderful writer with a story to tell. It is little wonder that this compelling book has received so many accolades. It is a stunning fiction debut by the author.
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on 9 September 2008
This is a simple, unpretentious read, yet very pleasant.

1964, rural South Carolina. Many different themes are explored through the voice of Lily, a white 14 year-old with a heavy weight in her heart, the loss of her mother. What's worse, she believes she has accidentally killed her -it all happened when Lily was only 4- and since then all she earnestly wishes for is a forgiveness that never comes. She is brought up by a black nanny/servant, Rosaleen, and her father, a distant, harsh man who does nothing to make Lily feel loved. After a racial episode which gets Rosaleen into jail and hospital, Lily manages to escape with her and they become fugitives. They eventually get to Tiburon, a city that Lily feels has a strong connection with her mother's past.
They end up at the house of three black sisters, August, June and May Boatwright who, after a few reservations, agree for them to stay for a while in exchange of help around the house and with the bees. The sisters are beekeepers and August introduces Lily to the fascinating world of bees. Busy, wonderful, honey-making bees. After a few days, Lily makes the acquaintance of Zach, a black young man who also helps with all the bees-related work and a friendship ensues. Life at the Boatwright's seems a balm for Lily's wounded soul and Rosaleen too, finds the perfect niche and becomes very close to one of the sisters, May. Life seems trouble-free despite their hiding their true identities and with many racial contrasts in the background at the time.

The author digs into multiple concepts, love, race, loss, hate, friendship, forgiveness, self-discovery and acceptance. The narrative is uncomplicated and charming. On the whole, this book did not entirely blow me away (my "true" rating, 3 ½ stars) but it was inspirational, one of those feel-good ones (hence, the 4 stars). And learning more than one bit about bees didn't hurt either, very interesting. Epigraphs from various books about bees and honey-making are quoted at the beginning of each chapter. A nice touch.

I believe that this book is also suitable for readers 14+.
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on 6 March 2010
This book tells the story of a white girl trying to grow up in the racially divided deep south in the 1960s, with a father who doesn't love her and no mother following her death when the main character was just four. The author has written the story well, weaving in a number of characters, most of whom you care about enough to hope things turn out well for them in the end.

There are a few twists in the book, but it is not a complicated read. It is the sort of book you can curl up with and relax, but it is not one to make you think or that will change the world. However, I did find it quite addictive and a page turner, which is why I rated it at four stars, not three. This was not in a gripping, edge of the seat, what will happen next kind of way, more in the sense of how will it all work out in the end?

Worth borrowing from the library, or buying to take on holiday if you want a light, entertaining read.
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on 2 October 2013
This book had been recommended. An excellent story, well written, no detailed sex and violence, and plenty to think about.
Im about to reread it.....just to take time to enjoy it again, and think about some of the issues.
An ideal book for a book club.
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on 23 November 2013
This novel was enjoyable enough but the plot, for me, was also unfortunately flawed so that I have nagging doubts about how much praise I have for it. In some places it was downright boring, especially when waiting endlessly (and seemingly for no other reason that to make the novel novel-length) for Lily to discover more about her mother, the crux of the plot. There were also a few too many convenient coincidences and clichés for me; without giving away too much of the plot, the romantic relationship that develops is particularly forced.

In terms of the imagery used, I thought it was clever to parallel the strong female characters with the idea of a beehive, led and run by female creatures, while its males are well-nigh superfluous. Nevertheless, with constant repetition this theme became dull too; by the end I felt blugeoned by bee, moon and mother imagery.

That being said, overall I did enjoy the novel more that I was frustrated by it. Its characters are interesting; I warmed to the Boatwright sisters, enjoyed evaluating whether or not I could stand the protagonist Lily (!), and spent a lot of time considering who was at fault for the way Lily's family relationships turned out - the latter puzzle reminded me favourably of Shriver's "We Need to Talk About Kevin".

Additionally, the blending of racial and political context into the story was subtle and well-balanced; aside from details of contemporary presidents and the build-up to the first US moon-landing, the portrayal of the Civil Rights Act through the understanding of a young white South Carolinian girl in the '60s seemed accurate and honest. It is presented without moralistic or apologetic tone to smooth the discrimination over. As such, being a product of her time, Lily's racial judgements are often shocking and unexpected and thus a particularly effective, attention-grabbing element in the novel.

Overall, an easy and relatively enjoyable holiday read, but not a novel to put much thought into.
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on 24 October 2011
Whilst this isn't one of the best books I have ever read, I most certainly found it to be a worthwhile story and a pleasant way to while away a few hours. It is non-complicated look at America's Deep South during a time of racial turmoil, with well portrayed characters you can really fall in love with.

The story is told through the eyes of Lily, a white teenager who lost her mother at a young age and is being virtually raised by Rosaleen, a black housekeeper. After witnessing a shocking act of violence against Rosaleen, she and Lily run away and end up at the house of the Boatwright sisters- a family of beekeepers, who teach Lily about what love and acceptance really means, as well as revealing a few secrets about Lily's own family along the way.

This was a really easy book to read, almost *too* easy in a way. Whilst there was some mention of the racial prejudices of the time and some violence depicted, I did expect it to be a bit stronger in tone than it actually was. I feel that the issues are merely touched on to keep this books almost `fairytale' quality and this could have been better developed. The author had an opportunity to really run with the theme and it does seem a bit glossed over. For more of a stronger novel on this theme I would personally recommend `The Help' by Kathryn Stockett.

Character development in the book was very successful. Kidd has just the right balance of teenage angst intermingled with the approach of adulthood and all of the confusion it entails to ensure Lily is a very believable protagonist. The Boatwright sisters were just wonderful with all of their little quirks and foibles- particularly Augusta. Rosaleen is also fantastic- I could really picture her as a bolshy, stubborn, proud woman who ultimately wants to do her best for Lily.

As an atheist, I probably could have done without all of the religious overtones personally, though they were in keeping with the theme of the book and could not have been omitted. This does come down to personal preference however and it did not detract from my enjoyment of the story in any way whatsoever.

I did enjoy all of the facts about bees that were interwoven in the story too. It was done in such an effortless way that as I reader I felt that I learned a bit about beekeeping almost by proxy. You can almost taste the sweetness of the honey flowing through the narrative and as far as first novels go, this is certainly a very good incentive to ensure I read her next book.

The Secret Life of Bees has real depth and honesty and is certainly worth a read if you enjoy well-written books about love, tolerance and family secrets.
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on 25 September 2015
Deeply sentimental, racist while pretending to be anti-racist (Rosaleen is pure Hattie McDaniel, straight out of ‘Gone with the Wind’. Of course she’s going to be a 5 x 5 – she’s a black Mammy! The novel is also pure wish fulfilment, which no doubt appeals to Hollywood and the various media book clubs!) Because everything is seen through the eyes of this incredibly irritating 14-year-old, all that matters is what appeals to her and what disgusts her. This stifles the potentially interesting individual voices of what could have been strong and individual black characters.

First examples of wish fulfilment – when her English teacher says that Lily could be a writer or a professor of literature. I laughed out at that, given that everything about the prose style screams, ‘Don’t give up the daytime job,’ and Lily clearly knows nothing about anything, even by the end; she is far too wrapped up in herself to listen and observe and learn from others. But no doubt the intended readers entertain similar fantasies.

It also mutes the violence and bigotry quite carefully, descriptions are guarded, the equivalent of a cutaway in a movie. The abusive father is softened, what he actually does nothing like as horrific as real abusive cases. So we’re left with a kind of soft focus mush. Witness also the warm reaction to the ‘rose-petal stain’ on her panties. Highly unlikely, I would have thought – more likely panic, for any number of reasons. Nothing challenges the reader. I thought for a moment in the first chapter there was going to be a question mark over whether the bees Lily sees in her room actually existed, or were a projection, which could have been interesting, complex and ambiguous. But no, it has to be simple ‘Dad-doesn’t-understand-me,’ good guys and bad guys, reductive.

Then there is the style; it seems to be written by a 14-year-old girl (though I know some 14-year-olds who are way more literate than this), but the premise of the novel is someone looking back on the 14-year-old they once were. I can see no difference between Lily at 14 and the narrator, so the central structure is lost and we’re stuck in a kind of permanent circular adolescence. There is no life to the prose, no rhythm, no spring, just an earnest plodding solemnity, peppered with thumping and usually inaccurate or confused similes and metaphors. “The sound had torn through the room and gouged out our hearts.” ‘Our’? Surely not, Lily. Whose, exactly?

I was on my guard against this book from page one, where the bees are described as “just flying for the feel of the wind” – anthropomorphic hippy bees. They also “split my heart down its seam”. That heart sure takes a pummelling. Mine remained stone.

Though I described this as bubblegum litt, which might indicate that it's suitable for teenage girls, there are far better novels of child abuse with more authentic voices which would teach a teenager much more. Off the top of my head I'd recommend "Identical" by Ellen Hopkins (once you get past the fact it's written in verse) and Toni Morrison "The Bluest Eye" - angry, heart-breaking and demanding. Or of course from Dickens Oliver Twist and David Copperfield.
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