The Secret Life of Bees is a soothing novel and a great read if your life is hectic and you frequently want to escape the rat race.
Lily lives with T.Ray, her dad who does not deserve to be called that way, in Sylvan/ South Carolina. Burdened with the knowledge that she has accidentally shot her mother Lily lives with T. Ray and Rosaleen, the coloured housekeeper and only person who loves her. It’s the time of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and the Mississippi murders and the president has passed a law to enable coloured people to vote. Rosaleen decides to register but an encounter with white racists ends in Lily and Rosaleen being locked up in prison. T. Ray fetches Lily but leaves Rosaleen behind. Lily for whom Rosaleen is almost like a mother can’t bear life without her and when Rosaleen gets treated at the hospital, Lily decides to get her and run away. They leave Sylvan with only a picture of a black Mary and the words ‘Tiburon/ South Carolina’ scribbled on the back by Lily’s mother. She hopes to find out more about Deborah Fannel and whether she has really killed her or not.
They hitchhike their way to Tiburon and stay at the house of the calendar sisters May, June and August. August, the oldest sister and a beekeeper agrees to let them stay under the condition that Lily helps with the bees. Lily and Rosaleen happily accept and invent a story about how Lily’s father got killed in a tractor accident and that her mother had died when she was a child and that they were on their way to Virginia to live with a distant relative.
June doesn’t like Lily from the beginning and doesn’t seem to believe the story. May who suffers from a special condition and Rosaleen become friends.
Soon fourteen year old Lily meets Zach, August’s nephew who helps with the bees. Slowly the two of them fall in love while taking care of the bees, but they can’t be together because there’s still the notion, that coloured people are lower than white people.
Life unfolds quietly until Zach gets locked up in prison and suddenly T. Ray is in front of the door as well.
This novel is beautifully written, Lily has a distinct voice but actually my favourite character is May with her wailing wall. She is portrayed as a person without the ability to distinguish between her own problems and the problems of the world. The weight of the world gets heavier and heavier…
The plot about the dead mother and a daughter trying to find out about her is not new and certainly not the highlight of this book. However the power of this novel lies within the description of this different lifestyle which is relaxing although tending bees involves a lot of work.