Set in the American South in 1964, the year of the Civil Rights Act and intensifying racial unrest, Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees is a powerful story of coming-of-age, the ability of love to transform our lives, and the often unacknowledged longing for the universal feminine divine.
Addressing the wounds of loss, betrayal, and the scarcity of love, Kidd demonstrates the power of women coming together to heal those wounds, to mother each other and themselves, and to create a sanctuary of true family and home.
Isolated on a South Carolina peach farm with a neglectful and harsh father, fourteen-year-old Lily Owens has spent much of her life longing for her mother, Deborah, who died amid mysterious circumstances when Lily was four years old. To make matters worse, her father, T.Ray, tells Lily that she accidentally killed her mother.
Captured by the voice of this Southern adolescent, one becomes enveloped in the hot South Carolina summer. A story of mothers lost and found, love, conviction, and forgiveness, The Secret Life of Bees boldly explores life’s wounds and reveals the deeper meaning of home and the redemptive simplicity of “choosing what matters.”
In the end, though she cannot find the mother she lost, Lily discovers and comes to terms with her mother’s past, finds a hive of new mothers,and falls inlove with the great universal mother.
Here are my favorite quotations from the book:
“I walked in the woods in the afternoon when I was sure August wasn’t out there. I would pick out a tree and say, If a bird lands in that tree before I count to ten, that is my mother sending her sign of love. When I got to seven, I would start counting real slow, dragging it out. I would get to fifty sometimes, and no bird.”
“We can’t think of changing our skin, change the world- that’s how we gotta think.”
“You know, Lily, people can start out one way , and by the time life gets through with them they end up completely different.”
“Knowing can be a curse on a person’s life. I’d traded in a pack of lies for a pack of truth, and I didn’t know which one was heavier. Which one took the most strength to carry around? It was a ridiculous question, though, because once you know the truth, you can’t ever go back and pick up your suitcase of lies. Heavier or not, the truth is yours now.
“There is nothing perfect. There is only life.
“I lay in the emptiness, in the tiredness, with everything — even the hating — drained out. There was nothing left to do. No place to go. Just right here, right now, where the truth was.
“Drifting off to sleep, I thought about her. How nobody is perfect. How you just have to close your eyes and breathe out and let the puzzle of the human heart be what it is.
“Our Lady is not some magical being out there somewhere, like a fairy godmother. She’s not the statue in the parlor. She’s something inside of you.
You have to find a mother inside yourself. We all do. Even if we already have a mother, we still have to find this part of ourselves inside.
You don’t have to put your hand on Mary’s heart to get strength and consolation or rescue, and all the other things we need to get through this life. You can place it right here on your own heart. Your own heart.
All those times your father treated your mean, Our Lady was the voice in you that said, ‘No, I will not bow down to this. I am Lily Melissa Owens, I will not bow down. Whether you could hear this voice or not, she was in there saying it.
When you’re unsure of yourself, when you start pulling back into doubt and small living, she’s the one inside saying, ‘Get up from there and live like the glorious girl you are’. She’s the power inside you.
And whatever it is that keeps widening your heart, that’s Mary, too, not only the power inside you but the love. And when you get down to it, Lily, that’s the only purpose grand enough for a human life. Not just to love — but to persist in love.
This Mary I’m talking about sits in your heart all day long, saying, ‘Lily, you are my everlasting home. Don’t you ever be afraid. I am enough. We are enough.