Book n Movie Review: The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd/Gina Prince-Bythewood

Tuesday, September 21, 2010



Fourteen year old Lily Owens has been tormented by the same memory since she was four - the events of the afternoon her mother died. She stays with her harsh father, T. Ray, in a peach farm in South Carolina - a father who never acknowledges her birthday, doesn't buy her anything, and is nothing like a father should be. When he wants to punish her, he makes her kneel on grits for an hour. Her only real companion is the fierce, sometimes-outspoken, black woman, Rosaleen. Then something happens that prompts Lily to leave her father and her home to a place called Tiburon along with Rosaleen. There, she stays with three black beekeeping sisters, August, June and May, who provide such delightful company and eventually helps Lily get answers to the questions with which she arrived there.

I had been putting off reading this book for so long because I knew nothing about it, and the bee-word was honestly a little repulsive. (I have serious issues with any kind of small creepy crawly fly-ly living things.) But when I requested you readers to choose a book for me to read, and you guys recommended this one, I knew I couldn't put it off anymore. And so I started reading it, wondering what the whole thing about the bees was. And should I say Thank you? Or yell or chant it? Because I just absolutely loved this book!

The Secret Life of Bees is a coming-of-age story of a girl who tries to comes to terms with what happened the day her mother died. It is also a story of how she tries to learn more about her mother, and in the process, finds some wonderful women who love her like a daughter. This is not a YA book, but with a fourteen-year old protagonist and with an abundance of innocence in the book, I would imagine it could be one.

Lily is now probably one of my favorite bookish characters. I loved her spontaneity and her close relationship to Rosaleen and the beekeeping sisters. Her presence of mind is what saves her (and Rosaleen) from possible trouble. The three sisters (or calendar sisters, as Lily liked to call them because they were named after months), are characters who, you could say, have awesome screen-presence or "page-presence". August, as the oldest, was also the most mature and sensible one. She took care of the beekeeping business, into which she initiated Lily. Although I'm no fan of bees, I actually loved reading about some of the procedures described. June, though, didn't fancy Lily much and made her dislike very obvious. As for May, she was an eccentric character who carried the sorrows of the world on her shoulders. Each time, she heard any sad news, she broke down and started crying.

The Secret Life of Bees was one quirky read. It actually reminded me of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman, though I know it should have been the other way around, had I read this one first. Reading this book took me through such a wonderful mix of emotions. One moment I'm laughing, and the very next moment I'm sniffing my way through. One minute I'm subdued as I read, and then I'm all vehement and outrageous. I loved it! I loved that it sparked so many reactions in me!

Although I have read many books depicting racial prejudice, I still get shocked when I read about it. It's nothing new in today's world, but there is something very appalling about someone mouthing profanities at a person of a different color. It is as if you never imagined that the hatred in a person can get so disgustingly low. Lily is very frank when it comes to speaking her thoughts, so frank that she puts up a disturbing idea,
T. Ray did not think colored women were smart. Since I want to tell the whole truth, which means the worst parts, I thought they could be smart, but not as smart as me, me being white. Lying on the cot in the honey house, though, all I could think was August is so intelligent, so cultured, and I was surprised by this. That's what let me know I had some prejudice buried inside me.
I found it so very truthful, because I've noticed that those who are the staunchest to declare that they are bias-free are, in fact, not. This idea was expressed in the movie, Crash, and we've seen such hypocritical characters in many books. That Lily noticed it was the first step to a change in herself.

The South in the 60s is a time I love reading about. There was so much prejudice and reading about it makes me thankful that things are very different now to what they used to be - although so many people died in getting that freedom. For every prejudiced person, there were people like Lily and Skeeter (of The Help), who had very different perceptions, though colored by the same noticeable prejudice that Lily spoke of in the quotes above. As Lily said,
Up until then I'd thought that white people and colored people getting along was the big aim, but after that I decided everybody being colorless together was a better plan. I thought of that policeman, Eddie Hazelwurst, saying I'd lowered myself to be in this house of colored women, and for the very life of me I couldn't understand how it had turned out this way, how colored women had become the lowest ones on the totem pole. You only had to look at them to see how special they were, like hidden royalty among us. Eddie Hazelwurst. What a shitbucket.
(By the way, Lily's curses are really cute!)

Soon after reading the book, I rented the movie, which was just as enjoyable though not as much as the book (No surprise). I loved the characters except for May. Somehow I had a very different image in mind for May. Sophie Okonedo looked childish as May, which is not how I had pictured her. Definitely not old, but definitely not too teenage-y. There is one other character in the book - Zach, whose portrayal I wasn't too happy about either. However, I loved the screentime they gave to August and Lily, during the beekeeping tasks. They were great to watch, though of course, the book gave a lot more explanation of why some things are done. The book shows Lily's dad as an absolute rascal, but I was surprised to see the movie take a more mellow line. I'm not sure what the goal was, but it sure didn't strike any points with me.

In the end, I'm really glad that I got to read this book. This is one of those I didn't expect to like but ended up loving.


Check out this book published by Penguin @ Goodreads, BetterWorldBooks, Amazon, B&N.

I bought this book with my hard-earned money.

10 comments:

Cat said...

My daughter read it recently and recommended it. Now she keeps asking have I read it yet - I'll get to it!
I agree - most of the books that have made the greatest impact on me this year I approached with some doubt - and then got hit from the blindside.
Makes for exciting reading.

mummazappa said...

I'm glad to hear it's so good! I just picked up a second hand copy of this recently and am really looking forward to reading it.

Helen's Book Blog said...

Yay! Isn't this a wonderful book? Everyone I know who has read it has liked it. I haven't seen the movie; I was afraid it wouldn't live up to the book. But, it's been years since I read the book so perhaps I have enough time between them

Lucia said...

I've seen the film and thought it was okay. But your review really made me want to read the book!

bermudaonion said...

It's been years since I read this book and I loved it too. I saw the movie in the theater and thought it was good, but I'm a huge Queen Latifah fan.

Aths said...

Cat, I'm going to be asking you too if you have read it yet. LOL! This book was awesome, and isn't it great to lose yourself completely into a book that you had no idea about?

mummazappa, It is truly awesome! I'll be looking for your thoughts on this book!

Helen, the movie was actually good. I have decided that the only way I can enjoy a movie based on a book is to watch it right away. If I wait too long, I'm going to be disappointed.

Lucia, you should read the book - there is so much in it, and so much philosophy and fun too!

Kathy, I'm a big Queen Latifa fan too! Isn't she amazing!

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

Fab review. I love quirky characters and reads :)

Gfffdgdgdfgdfg said...

hi

Ghdhgd said...

this book blows balls

Rah said...

I love everyone in the book and everyone in the movie. "The Secret Life of Bees" is an amazing story and I'm so happy I came across the book before the movie. I am reading the book "The Help" right now and I love it the movie comes on in less than 3 days and I'm excited to see it! If you haven't seen the movie "The Secret Life of Bees" rent it through Blockbuster. As an employee for DISH I can tell you that we
are giving 3 months free of Blockbuster to new customers that come to
DISH.  You get unlimited movies, games and TV shows through the mail and 5
in-store exchanges with the new promotion. http://bit.ly/itKIy3