The Secret Life of Bees
by Sue Monk Kidd
(This column was first published in the June 12, 2003 issue of ArtVoice.)
Don't be put off by that title. Only incidentally is this a book about bees. Instead it is a quite unusual coming-of-age novel about a teenage white girl and her black nanny hiding in the home of three black sisters in the still segregated 1960s south. The sisters are the apiarists. Lily has run away from a home whose disruption she has inadvertently caused herself. During a family confrontation between her parents ten years earlier she accidentally shot and killed her mother, an event with which she has yet to come to terms. Now she flees from her angry and violent father and a white segregationist who is after her nanny -- for "disrespecting" him -- to seek out the family that seems to have had a connection with her dead mother. Ms. Kidd, highly regarded for her earlier memoirs The Dance of the Dissident Daughter and When the Heart Waits, writes here in her first novel about a difficult time and subject with great sensitivity.