The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
There’s a lot to like about this book but my favorite is the strong, clear voice of the young protagonist, 14-year-old Lily. The entire story is tightly wound around Lily’s perspective, and it manages to be credible from an adolescent’s point of view, as well as imaginative and insightful. There’s also a magical quality—especially surrounding the bees, honey, and the Black Madonna—that reminds me of One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. As this fight between her parents illustrates, Lily’s voice is poetic and filled with sensory language: “I don’t remember what they said, only the fury of their words, how the air turned raw and full of welts. Later it would remind me of birds trapped inside a closed room, flinging themselves against the windows and the walls, against each other. I inched backward, deeper into the closet, feeling my fingers in my mouth, the taste of shoes, of feet.”
There’s also another level to the story, which deals with prejudice during the segregated South of 1964 by showing racism through Lily’s eyes and then having her, a young white girl dependent on the kindness of black women, experience it for herself: “This was a great revelation—not that I was white but that it seemed like June might not want me here because of my skin color. I hadn’t known this was possible—to reject people for being white.” And then, as all great books do, there is a universal truth that unfolds: “You have to find a mother inside yourself. We all do. Even if we already have a mother, we still have to find this part of ourselves inside.” On top of all the imagery, characters and tension, facts about bees are woven throughout the story, making a wonderful correlation about community and humanity.