Like a jar of honey, this is sweet and delicious. Also like a jar of honey, you might find it too sweet, depending on your tastes.
Fourteen year old Lily runs away from home with her father’s housekeeper, Rosaleen, to escape his harsh parenting, his peach farm and the memories of a terrible accident that killed her mother. The two make their way to Tiburon, South Carolina, on the basis that Lily’s mother had once stashed away a picture of a black Madonna, scrawled with the name of the town. Set in 1964, at the height of the civil rights movement, the two raise more than a few eyebrows given Rosaleen is black and Lily white, but they are warmly welcomed by a trio of beekeeping sisters when they reach Tiburon, allowing Lily to embark on the challenging task of trying to uncover the secrets of her mother’s past. In doing so, Lily must confront the truth about her own role in her mother’s death and decide whether she wants her future to be as marred by guilt as the past has been.
From the feisty, warm hearted Rosaleen, to mean ogre like TJ, Lily’s father, by way of the three exotic sisters who host their own church and whose friends wear colourful, eccentric Sunday best hats, THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES is full of stereotypes, especially of African American women. But if you can overlook that you’ll find it’s also full of love, humanity and insight. These rescue the well worn themes of coming of age, racial divides, the healing power of other culture’s spirituality and the sweetness of young love to transform a series of cliches into something far better somehow than the sum of its parts.
There’s a brilliant scene where a wooden statute of the Virgin Mary is anointed in honey during a ceremony to celebrate and protect her. It seems to sum up this book; full of warmth, compassion and good intentions, provided you can ignore the obvious downsides – like getting really sticky. Easy to read and captivating enough to hold my attention in the week Scotland was voting on independence, it soothed, satisfied and gave solace. Just like a jar of really good honey.