Review: The Secret Life of Bees

Sue Monk Kidd (2002)

This book just begs to be turned into a Lifetime network TV movie.  The Secret Life of Bees has some interesting characters, a vivid sense of place and a central character with a unique voice, but unfortunately the sum equals less than the parts.

Lily is a girl who’s lost her mother in a tragic accident, for which she carries much guilt and confusion.  Race plays an important role in this story, which is set in South Carolina in 1964, as the Civil Rights movement is taking root. Lily’s caretaker and only friend is Rosaleen, a black woman whose fierce pride lands her in jail when she crosses paths with three white men on her way into town to register to vote. Lily flees her loveless home, breaks Rosaleen out of the hospital/jail (making her a runaway and a fugitive!) and finds refuge with “the bee sisters” who become her true family. I enjoyed the book most when Lily was learning the ways of bees and of the unusual sisters who take her in. Other than that, it seemed fairly conventional.

The Secret Life of Bees tries too hard to create tension with a trumped-up abusive relationship between Lily and her neglectful, bitter father. The climactic confrontation at the end of the story seemed a stretch, inserted just to put the heroine in jeopardy, as dictated by all movie scripts in the third act. I would have preferred less made-for-TV dramatics and more focus on the quiet, deeper and more personal aspects of the tale–A simpler story, about a girl and her bees.  [*** 1/2]

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