Study Guide

The Secret Life of Bees

By Sue Monk Kidd

The Secret Life of Bees Introduction

If you learn nothing else from The Secret Life of Bees, you'll find out lots of new and surprising ways to use honey—around the house, in religious rituals, for first aid . . . you name it, honey can do it. If that's not enough for you, the book also offers up lessons in growing up, family, love, and prejudice. So, if any of the above is your cup of tea (with honey), suit up in your beekeeper's veil and let's get started.

The novel's narrator, Lily Owens, describes the series of surprising and not always entirely awesome events that occurred during the summer of 1964, when she turned 14 and decided to run away from home. The reason for vamoosing? Well, she was having trouble with her dad . . . oh, yeah, and then there was this whole thing with her friend/caretaker, Rosaleen, getting unjustly arrested after a racially motivated incident.

If the juxtaposition of severe racial injustice and teen trouble seems a little odd to you, we have to warn you: get used to it. The legacy of slavery and contemporary reality of a de-segregating South serve as the backdrop for Lily's own tale of family/personal angst. You'll definitely want to be paying attention to how the novel weaves these two narrative threads together and think about whether the balance "works" (but we'll save our spiel on that for our "Million Dollar Questions" section, don't worry).

The book also dips into a lot of other interesting topics, including feminism, religion and spirituality, violence, ignorance, and of course, love. With all this and more, it's no surprise that Sue Monk Kidd's 2002 novel became a major motion picture in 2008 starring Queen Latifah, Dakota Fanning, and Alicia Keys. Excuse us while we go grab the popcorn (do you think honey goes with popcorn? Hmmm . . .).

What is The Secret Life of Bees About and Why Should I Care?

The fun (and—dare we say it?—inspiring) thing about The Secret Life of Bees is that it shows how very quickly life can change. Okay, yes, sometimes that can also be a bad thing—for example, the accident that killed Lily's mom happened in a heartbeat. However, we are glass-half-full people over here at Shmoop, so we prefer to focus on how lightning-fast Lily's life goes from sad and gloomy to wondrous and bee-filled.

When we first meet Lily, she's suffering from some pretty typical teen angst—you know, worrying about her appearance, fitting in, etc.—except it's is a thousand times worse because of her life at home, where her mother is absent and her father toggles between being indifferent and hostile.

However, once Lily resolves to get out of dodge, things look up pretty quickly. When she gets to Tiburon, she stumbles into a world whose warmth and wonders she could never have imagined. At the Boatwright sisters' electric pink house, she encounters bees who let you hang out with them if you "send them love"; elaborate spiritual ceremonies celebrating the Virgin Mary as a kind of Earth mother goddess; handsome, supersmart teenage boys, and most importantly, a whole team of mothers who provide Lily with love and support.

Okay, yes, we have to acknowledge that the incidents that send Lily out on the road are anything but "fun" or "inspiring." Rosaleen's trip to jail and the violence she encounters are no laughing matter; she could have easily been killed at any point during that ordeal. Also, Lily's fight with her dad (which is what gives her the idea to run away) was fairly unpleasant. However, all those incidents kind of make the changes Lily experiences even more amazing, no? Anyway, maybe the incredible turnabout in Lily's life can give you something to think about the next time you're mired in your own teen angst—it does get better, sometimes sooner rather than later.

The Secret Life of Bees Resources

Websites

Sue Monk Kidd's Web site
Learn more about the author and the books she penned after The Secret Life of Bees

The Sick Rose
Lily's mom read William Blake (and other English poets, too). Check out the poem Lily reads when she goes through her mother's things.

Movie or TV Productions

Queen Latifah as a beekeeper? Sign us up and pass the popcorn.
The Secret Life of Bees was a hit film, too.

Articles and Interviews

The New York Times Book Review
Check out the NYT's review.

Entertainment Weekly Review
EW weighs in as well.

Video

Sue Monk Kidd Video Bonanza
Kidd discusses her ideas via some handy dandy videos posted on her site.

The Previews Are the Best Part
Click for a preview for the movie version.

From Lily's Mouth
Dakota Fanning gets interviewed about the film version.

Audio

The Secret Life of Bees Soundtrack
But wait—there's no Alicia Keys?!

Images

Rosaleen and Lily
. . . as portrayed by Jennifer Hudson and Dakota Fanning

August and Our Lady
Here's another still from the movie version. Looks like August is telling the story of Our Lady to the Daughters here.