The Secret Life of Bees

Author: Sue Monk Kiddsecret
Publisher: Viking
Date: 2002
Genre: Coming-of-Age, Historical Fiction
ISBN: 9780670032372
Price: 24.95
Number of Pages: 301
Available Formats: Hardcover, paperback, E-Book, Audio

Rating Scale: 4Q, 3P

Links to Author’s Website and Interviews

Links to Reviews

Reader’s Annotation

Lily Owens is done with it, her father, hometown, everything. So she busts her nanny out of jail and skips town on a journey to learn about her mother’s past.


 Lily Owens

Rosaleen Daise

T-Ray Owens

August Boatwright

June Boatwright

May Boatwright

Zachery Taylor

South Carolina 1964


 This book takes place in South Carolina in 1964 during the chaos of the civil rights movement. The story centers around a 13-year-old named Lily Owens, who has lived with her abusive father ever since her mother died tragically when she was a small child. Lily has a very tumultuous relationship with her dad, with her only source of comfort being her African American nanny Rosaline. One day, Rosaline gets into an altercation with three racists in town and is beaten and arrested. Things are looking pretty grim for Rosaline, so Lily breaks her out of jail and the two run away. Lily’s secret mission is to find out more about her mother. Through a few of her mom’s items, she determines that she used to live in a town called Tiburon and is somehow connected to a woman named August Boatwright and her two sisters. August is a beekeeper and has a business called Black Madonna, where she sells honey. Lily visits her and August immediately takes her and Rosaline in. They work at the business for room and board. Lily grows close to the sisters but is afraid to divulge her true identity.

Critical Evaluation

I really enjoyed reading this book. I normally don’t like reading anything set in the 1960s, but I was immediately drawn to Lily as a character. Lily’s tragic past was very interesting, as was her struggle to understand more about her mother. The story serves as a fantastic coming-of-age story, as Lily’s growth is both realistic and interesting. I also thought the sisters were really good characters, especially August. Although at times she was a little too perfect, her relationship with Lily was the heart of the story to me. Lily’s guilt regarding her mother’s death was extremely sad. It was especially difficult to see her keep it from August when the reader knows that August could help with her inner turmoil. I saw the twist ending coming, but I do like the fact that that the book stuck to its guns. It didn’t sanitize the story. Nothing comes out perfect in the end.

Significance of Book

This book has earned some rave reviews and has made multiple lists for best books. It was published as an adult title but has YA appeal. It was even made into a movie starring Dakota Fanning and Queen Latifah. It is a beautifully written novel coming-of age story about self-acceptance and forgiveness.


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Whistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall

Awards and Lists

 Indies’ Choice Book Awards: Paperback

School Library Journal’s Adult Books for High School Students: 2002

YALSA Best Books for Young Adults: 2003

YALSA Outstanding Books for the College Bound – Literature and Language Arts: 2009

YALSA Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults: What Makes a Family? (2008)

Book Discussion Ideas

  • Discussion on T-Ray and Lily’s relationship
  • Discussion on the difficulty of forgiveness
  • Discussion into the Black Madonna and how it figures into story

Justification of Selection

 One of the reasons I decided to pick up this book for my database is that I wanted to read something that was set in the south during the 1960s. I don’t have much experience reading anything set during this time and I liked the fact that this had YA appeal. I was also interested in acceptance and feminine power.