Fourteen-year-old Lily Owens lost her beloved mother when she was only four—under tragic circumstances clouded by time and secrecy. She later found a fiercely protective "stand-in," her abusive father's outspoken housekeeper, Rosaleen. Ignoring differences in age and color—and the fact that racial hatred seethed during the summer of 1964 in rural South Carolina—these two unlikely companions set off on a seemingly aimless pilgrimage that ends at the home of a trio of eccentric bee-keeping black sisters.
Lily tells her remarkable tale of longing and love in an idiom and accent heard far south of the Mason-Dixon Line, but the lessons learned during her odyssey into the world of bees and their "secret life" are universal and everlasting.
In her debut novel, Sue Monk Kidd proves herself adept both at storytelling and at creating characters who are simultaneously outlandish and credible—in other words, worthy to join the ranks of such first-rate Southern stylists as Kaye Gibbons, Anne Rivers Siddons, and Ellen Gilchrist.
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In Sue Monk Kidd's The Secret Life of Bees, 14-year-old Lily Owen, neglected by her father and isolated on their South Carolina peach farm, spends hours imagining a blissful infancy when she was loved and nurtured by her mother, Deborah, whom she barely remembers. These consoling fantasies are her heart's answer to the family story that as a child, in unclear circumstances, Lily accidentally shot and killed her mother. All Lily has left of Deborah is a strange image of a Black Madonna, with the words "Tiburon, South Carolina" scrawled on the back. The search for a mother, and the need to mother oneself, are crucial elements in this well-written coming-of-age story set in the early 1960s against a background of racial violence and unrest. When Lily's beloved nanny, Rosaleen, manages to insult a group of angry white men on her way to register to vote and has to skip town, Lily takes the opportunity to go with her, fleeing to the only place she can think of--Tiburon, South Carolina--determined to find out more about her dead mother. Although the plot threads are too neatly trimmed, The Secret Life of Bees is a carefully crafted novel with an inspired depiction of character. The legend of the Black Madonna and the brave, kind, peculiar women who perpetuate Lily's story dominate the second half of the book, placing Kidd's debut novel squarely in the honored tradition of the Southern Gothic. --Regina MarlerFrom the Back Cover:
"This is the story of a young girl's journey toward healing, and of finding, at its end, not only wholeness, but the intrinsic sacredness of living in the world. I think it is simply wonderful" (Anne Rivers Siddons)
"Sue Monk Kidd's eccentric, inventive, and ultimately forgiving novel is reminscent of the work of Reynolds Price in its ability to create a truly original Southern voice." (Anita Shreve)
"I am amazed that this moving, original, and accomplished book is a first novel. It is wonderfully written, powerful, poignant, and humorous, and takes a line which is -- refreshingly -- strongly female without being cliche-feminist. It is also deliciously eccentric, which lifts it out of the usual category of a rite-of-passage novel into the realms of real distinction. DO read it." (Joanna Trollope)
"What a splendid novel! It's wonderfully thoughtful and sensitive and compulsively readable." (Susan Isaacs)
"The Secret Life of Bees is a novel of love and almost unbelievable courage, the quest of one young girl in search of her mother and so much more. Sue Monk Kidd takes on huge things, and by writing about what is mysterious, even difficult, in life, illuminates what is beautiful. She proves that a family can be found where you least expect it--maybe not under your own roof, but in that magical place where you find love. The Secret Life of Bees is a gift, filled with hope." (Luanne Rice, author of Dream Country)
"Writing with the intimate voice of the memoirist and with the Southerner's abiding sense of place, Sue Monk Kidd has written a forgiving story for the motherless child in all of us." (Shelby Hearon)
"Sue Monk Kidd has written a wonderful novel about mothers and daughters and the transcendent power of love, all the while masterfully illuminating the feminine face of God." (Connie May Fowler)
"With imagination as lush and colorful as the American South, a clutch of deliciously eccentric characters, and vivid prose, Sue Monk Kidd creates a rich, maternal haven in a harsh world." (Christina Schwarz)
"Sue Monk Kidd is an extraordinary storyteller. In "The Secret Life of Bees," she explores a young girl's search for the truth about her mother; her courage to tear down racial barriers; and her joy as she claims her place within a community of women. Beautifully written." (Ursula Hegi, author of The Vision of Emma Blau)
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