After last month’s emotional read – Still Alice – I wanted to find something a little sweeter to read for August. When I started reading this good old-fashioned coming of age story that I’ve had sitting unread on my bookshelf for a couple of years, I knew it was just the kind of story I was looking for. So, for August we’ll be reading (then walking and talking about…) The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd.
This book was published in 2004 and was a bestseller, so chances are you’ll easily find old copies in your local library or second hand book shop if you don’t want to buy your own!
The themes of the book range from maternal loss and betrayal, guilt and forgiveness which entwine in a story that leads us to learn what we all long for most – connection.
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, of 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.
Captured by the voice of this Southern adolescent, one becomes enveloped in the hot South Carolina summer and one of most tumultuous times the country has ever seen. 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.”
About the author…
According to her website, Sue Monk Kidd is a writer, novelist and memoirist. She was born in Albany, Georgia and raised in the tiny town of Sylvester, Georgia, a place that deeply influenced the writing of her first novel The Secret Life of Bees.
Sue’s first book, God’s Joyful Surprise describes the beginnings of her spiritual search. Her second book, When the Heart Waits, reveals a deepening of Sue’s voice and recounts her vivid spiritual transformation at mid life. Turning her explorations to feminist theology, she published The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, (Harper SanFrancisco, 1996), a memoir that had a groundbreaking effect within religious circles.
Sue’s desire to write fiction returned in her forties (see – age doesn’t matter!!), and she enrolled in a graduate writing course at Emory University, as well as studying at Sewanee, Bread Loaf and other writers’ conferences. She wrote and published short stories in small literary journals for which she garnered several awards.
More recently, Kidd has written a dual memior with her daughter Ann Kidd Taylor – Traveling With Pomegranates: A Mother-Daughter Story. In this intimate dual memoir, she and her daughter, Ann, offer distinct perspectives as a fifty-something and a twenty-something, each on a quest to redefine herself and to rediscover each other. Perhaps one for a future Walking Book Club??
What happens after I read The Secret Life of Bees?
In about two weeks time I’ll send out my newsletter with questions for you and your friends to discuss while you walk (and I’ll also put the questions here on the blog). If you haven’t already signed up for the Your Brain Health newsletter you can sign up here (and get a free copy of ‘How to improve your memory’ as a gift for signing up!!)…
As always, the questions will be designed to spark discussion about broader issues raised in the book, not a page-by-page analysis of the plot and characters!!
If you need a reminder of the philosophy behind The Walking Book Club you can read more here….
Update… Walking Book Club Questions…
- Who is the queen bee in this story? Who is the queen bee in your life story?
- Lily’s relationship to her dead mother was complex, ranging from guilt to idealisation, to hatred, to acceptance. How would her relationship with her mother have differed were she still alive?
- Lily grew up without her mother, but in the end she finds a house full of mother-figures. Have you ever had a mother figure in your life who wasn’t your true mother?
- The “Calendar Sisters” and the Daughters of Mary are just two examples in the book of the power of female community. Why is it important that women come together? What women’s groups have your been part of in different phases of your life? Why were they important?
- May built a wailing wall to help her come to terms with the pain she felt. We also need “rituals,” like wailing walls, to help us deal with our grief and suffering. Talk about the various rituals in your life that allow you to deal with pain or grief.
- Look into Lily’s future. Does Lily ever see her father again? Does she become a beekeeper? A writer? What happens to Rosaleen?
- There’s a scene in the book in which Lily and Zach wrap their arms around each. What happens next is best described by Lily: “He unwound his arms and said, ‘Lily, I like you better than any girl I’ve ever known, but you have to understand, there are people who would kill boys like me for even looking at girls like you.’ ” What happens to Lily and Zach?
- The symbolism of bees is central to this novel. Bee are Lily’s unspoken guides – they come to her room to relay the message that she should head out on her own and leave T. Ray’s house. Lily follows the trail of the honey label to Tiburon—and to the truth about her mother. In Tiburon, she lives in the honey house, and tending bees becomes her occupation. Why do you think the author chose bees as a central symbol?
- The queen bee is the mother of every single other bee, just as, according to August, the Virgin Mary is the mother of all the women she is close to ( the Daughters of Mary). Discuss any other parallels between the queen bee and the Virgin Mary.
- The Secret Life of Bees is essentially a coming-of-age story. Discuss one of your own coming-of-age memories with your Walking Book Club.