Monday, March 9, 2009

The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd

Posted by lea at 11:59 AM

The Secret Life of Bees is set in South Carolina just after the black community have been given the right to vote. It's a volatile time, and especially difficult for Lily Owen, who grows up with the knowledge that she accidentally killed her mother in a gun accident at just six years old (this is America, after all). But Lily is not bowed down - she's a spunky little character who's quite fearless, despite growing up with a bullying father, and yearns to discover more about her mother and free herself from the guilt of her death.

There's been a lot of talk about this book, especially since the film adaptation featuring a slew of stars like Queen Latifa, Dakota Fanning, Alicia Keys and Jennifer Hudson. Although it's quite a nice book, personally I think a lot of the hype has been because the cast of characters allows it to be a vehicle for those who don't always have the opportunity to star in movies of this calibre (namely, women of colour and a pre-teen girl). It's a particularly good vehicle for the black community, especially the women, who are depicted by Sue Monk Kidd as mysterious goddesses set among us, but unrecognised by the world as being such. They are shown to be full of life, unashamed, compassionate, wild, mystical (seen in their homegrown religion The Sisters of Mary), strong and intelligent. In comparison, most of the white people in the novel (secondary minor characters) are either racists or ignorant. Interestingly, Sue Monk Kidd herself is white. One can only conclude that this contrast is made in order to highlight the tension between the races during this period, but it does create an imbalance.

Particularly interesting is the point of view we are given through the first person narrator – young Lily Owen. She's no Jean Louise Finch (Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird) but she has her own charm. She's confused and sometimes quite unlikeable, but she most certainly begins to come of age in this book, which is essentially its main genre.


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