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Oct 27, 2005
Secret Life of Bees
Reviewed by Dr. Susan K. Hedahl
Yes, this book has been around about three years. If you missed it the first time, find a copy and ponder its contents. The title seems to indicate a book related to the natural sciences. This is true in one sense; what this work of fiction does is employ the metaphor of the bee hive (community) to create a vivid picture of the American South during the early years of the Civil Rights Movement.
The book is about girls and women. A white girl, Lily Owens, seeks to find the truth about her murdered mother, her abusive father with whom she lives, and what it means to live in a world where skin color is such a pervasive and complicated reality. When her
black adult female caretaker--actually more of a mothering aunt sort-- Rosaleen, decides she wants to register to vote, the story turns violent. As a result of the violence, both Rosaleen and Lily find their way to a highly unusual community of black women, which is funded in part by bee raising.
To say more is to ruin the many surprises of this novel for the reader. The book explores many issues: skin color, women's spirituality, mental illness, grief and loss, a young girl's coming of age in a changing South, and the issues of God and human justice (not obviously always identical).
This work is full of grace. If you are seeking one contemporary work of fiction about the impact of the Civil Rights Movement in the lives of those who lived it out at mid-twentieth century, read this book. You will see why it remained on the New York Times Best Seller list as long as it did.