The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
Review by Miss Horsfall, English Teacher
Library age rating: KS3+ (recommended for Year 9+)
Genre: historical fiction
Content warning: racism, swearing, violence, death, upsetting and emotional scenes
Lily is a white fourteen year old girl living with her cruel and unforgiving father on a peach farm in South Carolina, 1964. Lily lives with the guilt of accidentally killing her mother (she thinks, she struggles to remember what happened) when she was four years old, and her only friend in the world is Rosaleen, a politically aware and strong-willed black maid who works in Lily's house. When racial tensions boil over in the village, Lily helps an injured Rosaleen escape from prison, and the two flee town to seek refuge in the home of August Boatwright and her sisters May and June, all of which are beekeepers. With the help of the community of women she now finds herself in, Lily learns about herself, the mysterious past of her mother, and the often unjust world around her. She has some help from the bees too!
A fairly typical 'coming-of-age' story that shows that family can sometimes be the people we choose. It also depicts how the events of the Civil Rights era might have played out in small-town America. There's lots of lovely imagery in the book, particularly when the South Carolina setting is being described. The lessons Lily learns about bees also make for some good analogies for issues in life!
I would have liked to have learned more about the back-stories of characters like Rosaleen - it felt like there were missed opportunities to do so.
Other coming-of-age style novels with similar themes: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston