I really like books set in the south as well as coming-of-age stories, so I was intrigued by this book from the description on the jacket cover. Fourteen year old Lily Owens and her caregiver Rosaleen are on the run. Motherless Lily is running from her abusive father and Rosaleen is running from the law. With very few options and only a picture of a black Madonna to go on, Lily and Rosaleen end up at the house of August Boatwright, a beekeeper and owner of the Black Madonna Honey Company, and her two sisters, May and June. Lily and Rosaleen stay with the sisters and find solace in both a place to stay and a place to begin new lives.
I think one of the things that I couldn’t quite wrap my brain around in this book was Lily’s father, T-Ray’s, total dislike for his daughter. He was a mean, nasty person who apparently couldn’t deal with life. Well, join the crew, I thought. We all have our crosses to bear but we don’t take it out on the ones who depend on us. I thought the dynamics between Lily and the Boatwright sisters to be very genuine. I liked all of those women and I thought the author did a good job developing them. I wasn’t sure that I understood all of the significance of Mary in this book, but I don’t think that it detracted from the story.
I was reading some of the reviews by readers on Amazon.com. Some people hated this book and felt that it was racist of Lily to be taken in by black women and I got the feeling that some people thought that she was a white “princess”. I’m not sure where those sentiments came from – I personally think that the black characters in this book were way more likable than many of the white characters. This book was set in the south in the 1960’s, which was a time of great upheaval. At a time when there was still segregation, the Boatwright sisters took in a white girl and her caregiver with no questions asked. Whether it’s fiction or not, the world needs more tolerance and I thought that The Secret Life of Bees was an inspiration.