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`Secret Life of Bees’ a `60s mystery drama with buzz

The Secret Life of Bees; Sue Monk Kidd; 320 pages; Penguin USA; $14

Buzz.buzz.buzz. The familiar summer sound of sweet flowers and sticky honey. Listen closely and the bees just may share their secrets to successful living.

Lily’s life is not a happy one. Her mother, Deborah, is dead, a victim of an obscure accident that involved both Lily and her father, T. Ray (though the term is applied loosely).



T. Ray now routinely disciplines Lily with his own inventive punishment: “Martha Whites.” Lily must kneel on grits until her knees bruise and swell. Lily’s only friend is her black housekeeper, Rosaleen.

Though trouble is brewing from the beginning, the storm erupts when Rosaleen gets into trouble in town and Lily must sneak her out of police possession. Lily’s feeble plan is to travel to Tiburon, S.C., the location printed in faded letters on the back of a picture that once belonged to her mother.



Enter divine intervention.

When Lily and Rosaleen arrive in Tiburon, Lily sees the same picture plastered across jars of honey in a small general store. This leads the two fugitives to the shockingly pink home of the calendar sisters: June, May, and August, successful owners of Black Madonna honey.

Though the year is 1964 and racial tensions are high, August welcomes the young white girl into her house. The mystery, drama, tragedy, and hope than ensues are beautifully executed by Kidd’s literary skill.

Lily is masterfully portrayed as a headstrong, hurting adolescent, yearning for a mom. August is intelligent, kind, and patiently aware of more than Lily realizes.

The temporary arrangements grow lengthier as the southern heat intensifies.

Lily accompanies August with her bee-keeping and honey-making duties and learns about the peculiar and extraordinary secrets of the bees.

“She (August) reminded me that the world was really one big bee yard, and the same rules worked fine in both places: Don’t be afraid, as no life-loving bee wants to sting you. Still, don’t be an idiot; wear long sleeves and long pants. Don’t swat. Don’t even think about swatting.

“If you feel angry, whistle. Anger agitates, while whistling melts a bee’s temper. Act like you know what you’re doing, even if you don’t. Above all, send the bees love. Every little thing wants to be loved.”

The book’s fascinating plot and the well-developed characters seamlessly weave together in an exemplary fashion. The summertime backdrop eases the darker tone of trouble and misfortune, while the intertwined bee theme serves as a guiding force.

Kidd blends tragedy with discovery, anxiety with faith, and confusion with understanding to produce a story of genuine excellence.

Bees are remarkable creatures. This is a remarkable book. Together, they soar with success.


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