What is it about this book that I like so much? Maybe it's the image of Rosaleen, a black woman in the South in 1964, spitting snuff on the shoes of a racist white man who is harrassing her. Maybe it's the strong character of August Boatwright (one of the "calendar sisters" of May, June, and August), who epitomizes a queen bee in this story about bee-keeping sisters who take in a 14-year-old white girl running away from her abusive daddy -- I think making her kneel on grits is abuse, don't you? Maybe it's the Black Madonna in Tiburon, South Carolina, that Lily runs to after she breaks Rosaleen out of custody. Maybe it's that this first novel was written after the author realized conventional goodness just wasn't enough.
In The Dance of the Dissident Daughter: A Woman's Journey from Christian Tradition to the Sacred Feminine (1996), Sue Monk Kidd says her awakening began on the day she overheard two men talking about her daughter Ann, down on her knees stocking a drugstore shelf. One man said, "Now that's how I like to see a woman -- on her knees." The men laughed, Ann looked stricken, and Kidd herself was enraged, telling them, "You may like to see her and other women on their knees, but we don't belong there. We don't belong there!" That episode began a period of intense searching that, in my opinion, deepened her writing. Look at the beautiful way she uses words:
"There had been a moment, many moments really, when truth seized me and I 'conceived' myself as woman. Or maybe I reconceived myself. At any rate, it had been extraordinary and surprising to find myself -- a conventionally religious woman in my late thirties -- suddenly struck pregnant with a new consciousness, with an unfolding new awareness of what it means to be a woman and what it means to be spiritual as a woman" (p. 7).Don't you love that phrase "struck pregnant"? I do. By the way, she and Ann have a new book out, published this month, called Traveling with Pomegranates: A Mother-Daughter Memoir.
Click this link for an interview with the author and discussion questions about The Secret Life of Bees for your book club. To read even more, click here.
I'm going to rate both of these books:
(1) The Secret Life of Bees was a book I couldn't put down, so it rates 10 of 10.
(2) And because it's such an excellent book, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter rates 9 out of 10. NOTE: I also wrote about this book here, where I gave it a rating of 10/10.