The Secret Life Of Bees

by Sue Monk Kidd

Penguin Publishing Group | January 28, 2003 | Trade Paperback

The Secret Life Of Bees is rated 4.42028985507246 out of 5 by 69.
The multimillion-copy–bestselling first novel by the author of The Invention of Wings, coming from Viking in January 2014

The Secret Life of Bees was a New York Times bestseller for more than two and a half years, a Good Morning America “Read This” Book Club pick and was made into an award-winning film starring Dakota Fanning, Queen Latifah, Jennifer Hudson, and Alicia Keys. A coming of age tale set in South Carolina in 1964, The Secret Life of Bees will appeal to fans of Kathryn Stockett’s The Help and Beth Hoffman’s Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, and tells the story of Lily Owens, whose life has been shaped around the blurred memory of the afternoon her mother was killed.

When Lily’s fierce-hearted black “stand-in mother,” Rosaleen, insults three of the town’s most vicious racists, Lily decides they should both escape to Tiburon, South Carolina—a town that holds the secret to her mother’s past. There they are taken in by an eccentric trio of black beekeeping sisters who introduce Lily to a mesmerizing world of bees, honey, and the Black Madonna who presides over their household. This is a remarkable story about divine female power and the transforming power of love—a story that women will continue to share and pass on to their daughters for years to come.

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 336 pages, 7.8 × 5.1 × 0.7 in

Published: January 28, 2003

Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0142001740

ISBN - 13: 9780142001745

Found in: Literary
I just loved The Secret Life of Bees. I was drawn into this book from the very first paragraph -- it's a story of sisterhood and the soul, written for those of us who prefer happy endings with a sense of realism. First-time novelist Sue Monk Kidd is going to be one to watch.

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Rated 5 out of 5 by from I love this book I don't often read a book twice but this one I did. The characters are so vivid and compelling. The narrative flows and touches the heart.
Date published: 2016-02-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Really Enjoyable Book An engaging and touching story, very well written.
Date published: 2015-05-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Mothers Everywhere A beautiful story beginning with an ugly lie - that the blame for the murder of a devoted mother was wrongly attributed. This is the story of women supporting a child who needed them - and becoming mothers who, each in her own way, gives birth to friendship, justice and love. All of these women were busy bees making love happen. Wonderful story. Eleanor Cowan, author of: A History of a Pedophile's Wife: Memoir of a Canadian Teacher and Writer See your review on the site
Date published: 2014-05-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I LOVED this book. I absolutely could not put it down. The descriptions were so vivid and realistic, I could see everything unfolding clearly in my mind's eye. Each character was incredibly crafted--August and Lily are my favourites. In Lily's narration it was plain that she was a teenager. The writing was so realistic--each belief and fear were so true to her age. The narrow scope of youth was so plain. I LOVED IT. I laughed, I cried, I never wanted to put it away. The way that the characters grow throughout the novel--especially Lily--was so moving. You don't just watch them grow, you grow right along with them. I absolutely recommend this book to everyone! More realistically, I recommend this book to fiction lovers, especially women's fiction lovers. The Secret Life of Bees is along the same lines as The Help. If you enjoyed that, you'll likely enjoy this too
Date published: 2013-10-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved it The characters were so well defined. There was a bit of everything in this novel, love, friendship, politics, injustice. Definitely worth the read and as always much better than the movie.
Date published: 2012-01-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great book This is a highly enjoyable read and I definitely recommend it. You won't be disappointed.
Date published: 2012-01-08
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Buzz! I think I would have enjoyed this book more if I hadn't seen the movie because there would be more surprises, I wouldn't know what was coming. I did still enjoy it though, I liked how all the females were strong characters, including the bees. I also liked the quote at the beginning of each chapter from different bee books, they usually left me smiling. It also gave me a deeper look into the story as a whole and I enjoy the movie a lot more now.
Date published: 2010-04-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great ! This book was hard to get into and read at first, but after the second chapter when everything starts to happen, it gets more interesting and intense. The Secret Life of the Bees is also a easy novel to read. It took me two days to finish, and i really liked it.
Date published: 2009-09-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great message i love it when i come across a book that leaves you so sad when it ends, and so moved by it. This book is a story of hardship, love, female power, and so much more. it's wonderful, and beautifully written. a must read for all girls there's two downsides to the book. one: in the middle of the book it started getting boring, when lily is living at August's house. it just goes on forever with no action. two: why was the only white man in the whole story a bad father who basically abused his daughter? nice message. still, a good read.
Date published: 2009-03-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great message i love it when i come across a book that leaves you so sad when it ends, and so moved by it. This book is a story of hardship, love, female power, and so much more. it's wonderful, and beautifully written. a must read for all girls there's two downsides to the book. one: in the middle of the book it started getting boring, when lily is living at August's house. it just goes on forever with no action. two: why was the only white man in the whole story a bad father who basically abused his daughter? nice message. still, a good read.
Date published: 2009-03-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Breathless ! :) At first, I thought it was a boring book about honey or something. But it wasn`t !! It was about the times in history that we will never forget. When things went too far, and you had nothing to fall back on. This book brought to life what I never expected. You`d think that the it would be boring, but it wasn`t. It was very good, and I loved it. 4/5
Date published: 2009-02-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Lovelyl Read Thoroughly enjoyed this book, took me back to my childhood. The characters were beautifully portrayed and the plot well developed with enough twists and turns to keep you up late at night reading.
Date published: 2009-01-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Truly Inspiring! "The Secret Life Of Bees" is an inspiring story of how a young white girl, Lily, is brought up by a troubled man, T. Ray. Lily's mother dies when she is only 4 years old and it becomes her quest to find out the truth of her mother's, Deborah, life. Lily and her nanny, Rosaleen, travel to South Carolina on a quest to find "the black Mary", a photo that was once Deborah's. Lily not only finds "the black Mary" on her journey, but she meets a wide variety of people that can offer her insight into her mother's life while she settles into her new found home. An amazing novel by Sue Kidd. I cannot wait to read another of her works.
Date published: 2008-12-20
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not what Oprah made it to be... I am an amateur book critic by far so others may not agree with me. This story was compelling but not as wonderful as Oprah made it out to be on her show. The characters were believable and similarity to bees unique. However, just not as exciting as I had hoped. Hopefully others think different...
Date published: 2008-12-01
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Disappointing I had heard a lot of good things about this book but I must say it was a disappointing read. The spiritual connections being made between the Black Madonna and the inner goddess just all seemed too hokey and bordered on cheesy and ridiculous. I did enjoy the development of the relationships between Lily and Rosaleen and the rest of the sisters and the author did a great job of painting the civil rights backdrop of the 60's and the influences it had on the characters' lives. The major influence that was given to the "divine Mary" in the book and her role in the womens' lives just really turned me off.
Date published: 2008-11-26
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Overrated, imho The Secret Life of Bees was disappointingly overrated, and often felt contrived, bordering on cockamamie. Although the premise was honourable and encouraged discovering your inner-strength and spirituality, and there were some memorable occasions that dealt with the injustices related to the civil rights movement, I think the characters and plot lines fell short of their intended ambition. Consistent holes and weaknesses in the storyline had me struggling to finish this short read. It’s also doubtful that it will fair any better as a motion picture with the ever so annoying Dakota Fanning as Lily. Although, maybe Queen Latifah will be its saving grace.
Date published: 2008-11-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from really good I thought that it was really neat how this story actually tied into bees. I also think its such a good story depicting the true meaning of friendship. A really cute little story.
Date published: 2008-10-24
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Too much religion The religious contenet of this book was a lot to take. I expected some of that as the book is set in the country and in the 60s, but it was a huge part of the story. I am not usually a fan of preachy books, but this one was ok. Its a cute story and it is really well written. Having said that, I really don't think I will reach for this author again.
Date published: 2008-10-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great read- couldn't put it down! Loved this book. Though I have read many books with a similar theme, and loved them just as much as this one- this book really was fantastically written. The characters seem genuine, and action starts almost immediately.
Date published: 2008-09-24
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Girl Power? I was a little nervous to read this book, because it is set in the south in 1964. I was worried that it would be too upsetting to read about the racial injustices, but it doesn't focus too much on that. Lily's search for learning about her mother, leads her to a "hive" of mothers and she learns she must leave home to find home. The women's bizarre worship of a black madonna masthead reminded me why I am protestant. Mary wasn't black, any more than she was white. She was a real person, not what we make her out to be. She was a young, Jewish woman. We don't know what she looked like. She definitely wasn't divine. In this book, they use it to help Lily discover her "divine female power". Although there is strength in our relationships with other women, I found the search for girl power a bit ridiculous. I liked her relationship with Zach, the young black bee keeper. I appreciate the bravery of the early inter-racial couples, who did it when it was so difficult. They paved the way for the rest of us, who can live our lives without race being an issue in our marriages. As for the bees, you learn alot about bee-keeping, and the descriptions are so real I could almost hear them buzzing around my head, and it made my skin crawl.
Date published: 2008-08-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wow... This author...this book...the characters, all I can say is wow. I was not "grabbed from the first sentence" but instead I began this book only out of condolences from a friend, who grabbed me in a passioned moment and proclaimed I must read it or I should surely perish. I think I owe this friend my summers reading. Definetly a cup of coffee and a danish. I was seized by these incredible characters, the insight and wisdom that the author has woven to create a world that is not only enchanting, but also carries such a broad political message-the fact we are all equal in our love for each other and our beliefs, no matter how different, all have impact on the world and how we percieve it. It is a book that should not be taken lightly, though the innocent love story of the two children is splendid. I most admire the fact that Sue Monk Kidd goes into her own experiences and gives this story a personal touch, something a book of this caliber must have. Though thin, this story must be read.
Date published: 2008-08-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beautifully written! This book grabbed me from the first sentence and its beautiful language kept me engrossed till the very end...and I didn't want it to end! Sue Monk Kidd has the unbelieveable gift of painting pictures with words. Not only could I picture the surroundings and the characters, but I could smell, taste and feel everything that was described. A truly remarkable novel with a one-of-a-kind story. I liked the bits of history interspersed as well. Looking forward to reading The Mermaid's Chair!
Date published: 2008-07-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beautiful, Uplifting Book Lily's mother died tragically when she was 4 years old and she has lived the last 10 years with an abusive father and a black housekeeper. One day Lily has had enough and at 14 years old runs away, with the housekeeper, to find out about her mother. This is a beautiful story of a girl who searches for a mother she never knew and in the process finds how to fill that empty hole with faith and a mother figure. This is a beautiful story. Set in 1960s South Carolina is deals with the racial relations of the times and the coming of the civil rights movement but these events are only a background for the story. It is within this backdrop that Lily, a white girl, comes to find a home and acceptance with a large black family of women. I loved this book, the characters, the setting, everything was just perfect. A wonderfully told story which really touched and uplifted my heart, having lost my own mother. Recommended.
Date published: 2008-06-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beautifully written This is a beautifully written novel and a fantastic story.
Date published: 2008-02-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from My Favourite This book was one of my favourites. It is timeless in the sense that any age group could read it and enjoy it thoroughly. Sue Monk Kidd writes a moving story about love, loyalty and the courage to move on from tragedy. I recommend this book to customers who might be looking for a gift for someone but is unsure about the content of other novels. If you read this and like it try Sue Monk Kidd's "The Mermaid Chair" or the novel by Donna VanLiere "The Angels of Morgan Hill"
Date published: 2008-02-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from More than you bargain for... I was expecting a light read with this book. I did get more than I bargained for. I couldn't put it away and I can still vividly remember the story even after reading x number of books since. It has substance, dealing with women issues and racial discrimination, not your little romance novel here. I thought it was very well written.
Date published: 2008-02-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A truly amazing novel I have to admit that i'm not usually a fan of actually heart warming books, but this has surely changed me. It's an amazing story and I would highly recommend the read. It's just a truly amazing read.
Date published: 2008-01-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from If a hug could be given by a book... The writing in this book is lovely - like a conversation with a dear friend over a warm cup of tea. I loved it and would recommend it to any girl looking for a book to read which leaves you with a warm and reassured feeling that life is going to be okay.
Date published: 2008-01-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Like a sojourn among friends This book had me hooked from the first page. I couldn't put it down, but was sorry to get to the end of it. The characters are so vivid it feels like you're among them.
Date published: 2008-01-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from secret life of bees A fantastic book. A great story about love and friendship!
Date published: 2008-01-19
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Don't see what the big deal is Like most people here, I’d heard nothing but praise for this novel. When I finally got around to reading it, I was quite disappointed. Not only are the characters one-dimensional and lacking real depth, but the plot itself is painfully predictable. I really, really wanted to enjoy this book, but I ended up skimming through parts of (something I rarely do). It just didn’t do it for me.
Date published: 2007-12-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from My new favorite I picked this book up one day when I was in a hurry. I didn't really look at it, but it grabbed my interest. It turns out that I just loved the book. It made me feel stronger and more connected to others. I've already read it twice, and will surely read it again.
Date published: 2007-10-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Story of Sisterhood and the Soul I just loved The Secret Life of Bees. I was drawn into this book from the very first paragraph -- it's a story of sisterhood and the soul, written for those of us who prefer happy endings with a sense of realism. First-time novelist Sue Monk Kidd is going to be one to watch.
Date published: 2007-09-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Great Book These are the kind of books I usually still away from but it was the title that caught my eye. This books touched me on a lot of different levels and emotions. As far as I'm concerned this book is a 10 +.
Date published: 2007-04-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from interesting Very good book. This book is a good book, and can be read by the young and the old. The enviornment and the characters in this book is wonderful. Sue Monk Kidd is a great author, and keeps you interested in the book and the characters. I would definitely read this book again soon.
Date published: 2006-08-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another good coming of age story This story really takes the reader to the setting of the story. You can really feel for the characters. This book is also great for making one reflect on your place in the world and to view it from eyes of a different color.
Date published: 2006-07-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A wonderful read! I really enjoyed the book...definitely a summer read. It reminded me of helping my aunt make honey when I was young.
Date published: 2006-07-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from super sweet This was a great read. I fell in love with all the characters, even the bees!
Date published: 2006-07-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Wonderful set of characters I loved this book so much that when I finished, I turned back to the beginning and started reading it again. It is the first time I've ever read a book twice. I am a slow reader who savours each word and can honestly say, this book was as good the second time around. I would highly recommend it.
Date published: 2006-07-07
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Heartwarming and honest-- a GEM! This book was a heartwarming journey of the main character -- the rediscovery of her faith in human kindness and honesty. The author explores the character's relationship with herself through a series of challenging choices.....and developing friendships with strangers. The final settling is not predictable and remains true to the development of the main character. I thoroughly enjoyed each heart tugging, sad, silly part of this book.
Date published: 2006-07-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Words can't express... This book is by far the best book I have ever read. Perhaps it hit home with me because of a lack of a mother in my life, who knows. This book is about a girl who runs away with her black housekeeper to a town where she thinks her Mother may have been at one time or another. An amazing novel about sisterhood and find the "mother" within yourself and around you. A must read for all girls and women.
Date published: 2006-06-21
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Over rated I recommend "Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe" over this book anytime! The characters lack depth, and it can just pass for an entertaining easy summer read.
Date published: 2006-06-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Warm and Real I loved the experience of reading this book. Every good book leaves you with some kind of lingering feeling after you put it down ... this one made me feel as if I had slipped back into the uncertain feet of my own girlhood. No matter where you come from, or how you grew up, there's a sense of sisterhood that comes out of this book and touches every reader as though these women were part of our own lives. It's entertaining, yet familiar and comforting and inspiring.
Date published: 2006-06-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Amazing Novel I got this book as a birthday present from my step-mom and while at first I was a bit hesitant, as soon as I started it I was in love with it and could not put it down. I've read it and re-read it and every time it still pulls at my heartstrings. This beautful story about how Lily copes with guilt, anger, sorrow, racism, torture, love, friendship, and so much more, is a must read. Everyone clear out a slot on your bookshelf for "The Secret Life of Bees"
Date published: 2006-06-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of my all-time favorites The characters are endearing, and real. The landscapes are wonderfully painted. The story is absorbing - in fact, I could hardly put it down. If you are interested in sisterhood, divinity and the meaning of life, I think you will enjoy this book. Buy it for yourself, your best friend, your mom and your sister.
Date published: 2006-06-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great Book! This book was a brilliantly poetic account of a young girl, Lily, who's tragic loss of her mother profoundly affected every aspect of her life. She endured emotional abuse from her father who was a bitter and selfish man, unable to show affection for his only child. Lily's African American nanny, Rosaleen was a blessing in disguise as the two embark on an adventure to escape the lives that they had known. They move on to a world where the epicenter was A Pink House filled with love, despair, sisterhood, bees, honey and acceptance. This book was an insprational journey that showed profound and unconditional love in the midst of sadness and heartbreak. A definite Must Read!
Date published: 2006-06-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Deeply moving... This book touches the heart in such a "real life" kind of way... it leaves you feeling that even when all seems hopeless, finding love and bringing your life back together again really is possible - even under the most unusual circumstances.
Date published: 2006-05-31
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Buzz-worthy I received this book as a Christmas gift, but because I was kept constantly occupied, I had delayed reading it for about six months. I finally picked up the book yesterday and finished it today. It was an excellent read: Kidd is able to make the cultural and geographical setting relevant to the plot of the novel, while entwining stories of exploration, regret, racism, eccentricity, faith, life priorities, the unique bond between women, and ultimately, love. 14-year-old Lily Owens' coming-of-age tale is definitely one that I highly recommend, because of the masterful manner in which Kidd is able to put so many important ideas into the story. What was most impressive of the novel was the way that the numerous themes were able to all be related to something so natural and simple as the relationship between bees. I would not hesitate to recommend Kidd's book to anyone, and as the book cover reads, it is definitely a tale that should be shared between women, especially mothers and daughters.
Date published: 2006-05-31
Rated 3 out of 5 by from It was a book to read After reading all the great reviews this book received, I was very intrigued to read it. There are some books out there that you read and don't really have any sort of feelings towards them, this was one of those books for me. It filled my was neither great nor was it bad.
Date published: 2006-02-17
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not bad I wanted to read this book because of the tens of recommendations I got for it. The book was ok. I could definitely see it being a movie; without a doubt. Plenty of racial tension and restrictions of freedom to stir up any producer/director in Hollywood. Lily was a good character. Sometimes I found her to be superficial and not genuine. What drew me was August Boatwright....She is what brought me to the end of the book. I highly recommend reading the Mermaid Chair by the same author. She really outdid herself.....Kidd has definite potential.
Date published: 2005-12-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A book with many levels. This book can simply be read as a beautiful story, as told by a young woman. On this level, the book has deep, caring characters that will instantly capture you. I think anyone, with any background, can relate with these characters and love this book. However, I think it is also important to remember where the story is set. The book describes South Carolina in 1964, just four years before Martin Luther King Jr. was assasinated. It describes a time where, in fact, violence against black and white civil rights activists was commonplace. For instance, civil rights workers were brutally murdered in Philadelphia in 1964 and dozens of black churches throughout the South were burned or bombed around 1963. This book does not dwell on the racial tension in the south at the time the novel is set, but I think any reader having this knowledge will find that the characters feel more vivid, because of the danger they face, and that the story is somehow more touching. This is one of the few books that I would recommend to anyone.
Date published: 2005-11-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best book ever! I strongly advise anyone that hasn't yet read this book, to read it!! It was so amazing that when I finished reading it, I felt sad, because I missed being with all the characters! I got to know them all so well, and I felt like I was a part of their family. This is by far, the best book I have ever read. I really want Sue to write a sequel! So if you're unsure of what book to read, this is definetly a MUST READ!!!!
Date published: 2005-10-16
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The Secret Life of Bees I found this book to be an incredibly fast and easy read. It is very well written with strong characters. I could easily picture it as a movie. The book makes you think about how the world used to be not all that long ago. It's amazing how much things have changed. Read this story, you'll be glad you did!
Date published: 2005-09-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderous! This is a wonderful story with characters that are easy to relate to. Not only does is demonstrate power of heart but also the greatness in life's little pleasures.
Date published: 2005-08-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing Sometimes you pick up a book that you are truely ment to read. This was that book for me. This book reminds us that we may not have the family we wanted, but you can find the family you need. I couldn't put this book down.Every page was better and better. I can't wait to read her next book.
Date published: 2005-07-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Restored My Love Of Reading This book is beautifully written, I felt as if I were living it rather than just hearing about's a rare talent for an author to be able to do that, to pull you in and make you feel like a silent character in the story. This book made me remember why I love reading, it's the first truly great book I've read after a long string of duds!!
Date published: 2005-06-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Great book, couldn't put it down. I would definately recommend!
Date published: 2005-06-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Almost The Secret Life of Bees was a touching book. One that should be read by everyone. Lily is an unusual, and genuine character with many different emotions. All the characters in the book each play a different role in her life, something that i found to be wonderful The plot is unique, it has never been done before. Kidd's style of writing reminds me of many different authors and books such as Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird (If you think about, it is very similar.) Parts of the book are poorly written, but other parts are done beautifully. This book will be remembered as one that should be read, but has some rough spots. Kidd has the potential to become an excellent writer in the future.
Date published: 2005-03-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Great Book!!! The Secret Life of Bees is one of the best books I have ever read. This story is about Lily, a fourteen year old girl, who is searching to find the truth about her dead mother. When she meets August Boatwright, Lily discovers that August loves her like she is her own daughter. Lily then realises the importance of love and acceptance of other people. This is a wonderful book and a must read!
Date published: 2005-01-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I just love it This is a book every woman should read and pass down to their daughters. So beautifully written.
Date published: 2005-01-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beautiful and Captivating Writing! The Secret Life of Bees is a beautifully written story about a young girl in search of her life's story. I especially loved the use of language, I found myself rereading sentences, marvelling in how beautifully they were scripted and executed. This is a story that I will treasure for a lifetime and pass on for generations to come!
Date published: 2004-09-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Moving, Memorable, Beautifully Written I will keep it, read it again and pass it on to the people in my life. The Secret Life of Bees is a wonderful story, beautifully written, with such moving characters. You'll fall in love with the main character, Lily Owens, and the women that become a part of her while she struggles through her pain. Through Lily's ordeal the readers will inevitably discover something about themselves, and learn important life lessons on what it means to be a human being. It's the kind of read that makes your train ride to work seem far too short. I couldn't put it down. Pick it up - you'll be glad you did.
Date published: 2004-07-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enthralling and Unique! This story was so original and fabulously written. I especially liked the different characters (my favourite was May). Being a teenager, it was hard to imagine what Lily was going through and how much courage she had. My mom read this book first, but after I read it, I know it is a great read for teens too! Thank you Sue for writing an entertaining and inspirational read!
Date published: 2004-04-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from a book you need to read! What an enjoying read! The Secret Life of Bees is a fantastic lyrically-written book that you can't put down. The heroine comes to this family broken and indignant looking for traces of her mother. The path, led by a black virgin Mary, leads to an an unusual family full of hope, love, and understanding. The ending leaves the reader warm and hopeful.
Date published: 2003-10-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Inspirational book! This was a sweet, touching and inspirational book. A great read (especially for women).
Date published: 2003-10-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Queen bee - August Boatwright I enjoyed this novel as a fast easy read. I didn't feel terribly drawn to any of the characters, although I think we all wish we had someone in our lives with the wisdom and compassion of August Boatwright. Lily's self-pity grew somewhat tiresome, but the conclusion provided evidence of her emotional growth and left me smiling.
Date published: 2003-08-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A must read!! I just couldn't put it down!! Well written with believable characters. If you enjoy female relationships, and personal growth then this is the book for you! I look forward to her next book...
Date published: 2003-07-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Secret Life of Bees Captivating! This is a book that will be read and reread for years to come! Unbelievable for a first novel...I can't wait to see what comes next!
Date published: 2003-06-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Hands Down The best book I have ever read.
Date published: 2003-05-12

– More About This Product –

The Secret Life Of Bees

The Secret Life Of Bees

by Sue Monk Kidd

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 336 pages, 7.8 × 5.1 × 0.7 in

Published: January 28, 2003

Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0142001740

ISBN - 13: 9780142001745

Read from the Book

The queen, for her part, is the unifying force of the community; if she is removed from the hive, the workers very quickly sense her absence. After a few hours, or even less, they show unmistakable signs of queenlessness—Man and InsectsChapter OneAt night I would lie in bed and watch the show, how bees squeezed through the cracks of my bedroom wall and flew circles around the room, making that propeller sound, a high-pitched zzzzzz that hummed along my skin. I watched their wings shining like bits of chrome in the dark and felt the longing build in my chest. The way those bees flew, not even looking for a flower, just flying for the feel of the wind, split my heart down its seam.During the day I heard them tunneling through the walls of my bedroom, sounding like a radio tuned to static in the next room, and I imagined them in there turning the walls into honeycombs, with honey seeping out for me to taste.The bees came the summer of 1964, the summer I turned fourteen and my life went spinning off into a whole new orbit, and I mean whole new orbit. Looking back on it now, I want to say the bees were sent to me. I want to say they showed up like the angle Gabriel appearing to the Virgin Mary, setting events in motion I could never have guessed. I know it is presumptuous to compare my small life to hers, but I have reason to believe she wouldn't mind; I will get to that. Right now it's enough to say that despite everything that happened that summer, I remain tender toward the bee
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From the Publisher

The multimillion-copy–bestselling first novel by the author of The Invention of Wings, coming from Viking in January 2014

The Secret Life of Bees was a New York Times bestseller for more than two and a half years, a Good Morning America “Read This” Book Club pick and was made into an award-winning film starring Dakota Fanning, Queen Latifah, Jennifer Hudson, and Alicia Keys. A coming of age tale set in South Carolina in 1964, The Secret Life of Bees will appeal to fans of Kathryn Stockett’s The Help and Beth Hoffman’s Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, and tells the story of Lily Owens, whose life has been shaped around the blurred memory of the afternoon her mother was killed.

When Lily’s fierce-hearted black “stand-in mother,” Rosaleen, insults three of the town’s most vicious racists, Lily decides they should both escape to Tiburon, South Carolina—a town that holds the secret to her mother’s past. There they are taken in by an eccentric trio of black beekeeping sisters who introduce Lily to a mesmerizing world of bees, honey, and the Black Madonna who presides over their household. This is a remarkable story about divine female power and the transforming power of love—a story that women will continue to share and pass on to their daughters for years to come.

About the Author

SUE MONK KIDD is the author of the New York Times bestselling novels, The Secret Life of Bees and The Mermaid Chair, and the memoirs Traveling with Pomegranates, which she wrote with her daughter Ann Kidd Taylor, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, When the Heart Waits, as well as Firstlight, a collection of her early writings. The Secret Life of Bees has spent more than 125 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and was adapted into an award-winning movie starring Dakota Fanning, Queen Latifah, Jennifer Hudson and Alicia Keys. The Mermaid Chair, a #1 New York Times bestseller, was adapted into a television movie. Both of her novels have been translated into more than 24 languages. The recipient of numerous literary awards, Sue lives with her husband on an island off the coast of Florida.

From Our Editors

The Secret Life of Bees has a rare wisdom about life--about mothers and daughters and the women in our lives who become our true mothers. A remarkable story about the divine power of women and the transforming power of love, this is a stunning debut whose rich, assured, irresistible voice gathers us up and doesn't let go, not for a moment. It is the kind of novel that women share with each other and that mothers will hand down to their daughters for years to come.

Editorial Reviews

"A moving first novel...Lily is an authentic and winning character and her story is compellingly  told. The bees presage her journey toward self-acceptance, faith and freedom that is at the heart of this novel." —USA Today"Inspiring. Sue Monk Kidd is a direct literary descendant of Carson McCullers." —The Baltimore Sun "Fully imagined...the core of this story is Lily's search for a mother, and she finds one in a place she never expected." —The New York Times Book Review"This is the story of a young girl's journey toward healing, and of the intrinsic sacredness of living in the world. Simply wonderful." —Anne Rivers Siddons""The stunning metaphors and realistic characters are so poignant they will bring tears to your eyes." —Library Journal"Kidd has written a triumphant coming-of-age novel that speaks to the universal need for love" —New Orleans Times-Picayune"The on the edges of 'Magical Realism,' that blend of the fabulous and the ordinary that can invest a tale with a sense of wonderment, as is the case here." —Richmond Times-Dispatch"I am amazed that this moving, original, and accomplished book is a first novel. It is wonderfully written, powerful, poignant, and humorous, and deliciously eccentric. Do read it." —Joanna Trollope"A wonderful novel about mothers and daughters and the transcendent power of love." —Connie May Fowler"A truly original Southern voice." —Anita Shreve"It's as if Kidd loaded up a take-home plate with treats, and you said 'Oh, I could
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Bookclub Guide


August said, "Listen to me now, Lily. I'm going to tell you something I want you always to remember, all right?"

Her face had grown serious. Intent. Her eyes did not blink.

"All right," I said, and I felt something electric slide down my spine.

"Our Lady is not some magical being out there somewhere, like a fairy godmother. She's not the statue in the parlor. She's something inside of you. Do you understand what I'm telling you?"

"Our Lady is inside me," I repeated, not sure I did.

"You have to find a mother inside yourself. We all do. Even if we already have a mother, we still have to find this part of ourselves inside."

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.

Isolated on a South Carolina peach farm with a neglectful and harsh father, fourteen-year-old Lily Owens has spent much of her life longing for her mother, Deborah, who died amid mysterious circumstances when Lily was four years old. To make matters worse, her father, T. Ray, tells Lily that she accidentally killed her mother.

Lily is raised by Rosaleen, her proud and outspoken African-American nanny. When Rosaleen attempts to exercise her newly won right to vote, she is attacked by the three worst racists in town and is thrown into jail. Lily is determined to save Rosaleen and finally escape her own father as well. Seizing the moment, she springs Rosaleen from jail, and the two set out across South Carolina in search of a new life.

Their destination is Tiburon, South Carolinaa town they know nothing about except that in a box of Lily's mother's belongings there is a cryptic picture of a black Virgin Mary with the words "Tiburon, South Carolina" written on the back. There they are taken in by three black beekeeping sisters who worship the Black Madonna. It is here, surrounded by the strength of the Madonna, the hum of bees, and a circle of wise and colorful women, that Lily makes her passage to wholeness and a new life.

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."

In the end, though she cannot find the mother she lost, Lily discovers and comes to terms with her mother's past, finds a hive of new mothers, and falls in love with the great universal mother.


Sue Monk Kidd is the author of two widely acclaimed nonfiction books, The Dance of the Dissident Daughterand When the Heart Waits. She has won a Poets and Writers Award for the story that began this novel, as well as a Katherine Anne Porter Award. Two of her short stories, including an excerpt from The Secret Life of Bees, were selected as notable stories in Best American Short Stories. The Secret Life of Bees, her first novel, was nominated for the prestigious Orange Prize in England.


Q. The novel is set in South Carolina in 1964. Did you experience the South in the 1960s?

In 1964 I was an adolescent growing up in a tiny town tucked in the pinelands and red fields of South Georgia, a place my family has lived for at least two hundred years, residing on the same plot of land my great-great-grandparents settled. The South I knew in the early sixties was a world of paradoxes. There was segregation and the worst injustices, and at the same time I was surrounded by an endearing, Mayberryesque life. I could wander into the drugstore and charge a cherry Coca-Cola to my father, or into the Empire Mercantile and charge a pair of cheerleader socks to my mother, and before I got home my mother would know what size Coke I'd drunk and what color socks I'd bought. It was an idyllic, cloistered, small-town world of church socials, high school football games, and private "manners lessons" at my grandmother's. Yet despite the African-American women who prominently populated the world of my childhood, there were enormous racial divides. I vividly remember the summer of 1964 with its voter registration drives, boiling racial tensions, and the erupting awareness of the cruelty of racism. I was never the same after that summer. I was left littered with memories I could not digest. I think I knew even back then that one day I would have to find a kind of redemption for them through writing. When I began writing The Secret Life of Bees, I set it during the summer of 1964 against a civil rights backdrop. It would have been impossible for me to do otherwise.

Q. What parts of The Secret Life of Bees were drawn from your own life experience?

Once, after I gave a reading of the scene where T. Ray makes Lily kneel on grits, someone in the audience asked if my father had ever made me kneel on grits. She couldn't imagine, she said, anyone making that up! I explained that not only had I never knelt on grits, or even heard of kneeling on grits before it popped into my head while writing the novel, but that T. Ray is the exact opposite of my father. I conjured most of the novel straight out of my imagination, inventing from scratch, yet bits and pieces of my life inevitably found their way into the story. Like charm school. Lily wanted to go, believing it was her ticket to popularity. As an adolescent, I went to charm school, where I learned to pour tea and relate to boys, which, as I recall, meant giving them the pickle jar to unscrew, whether it was too hard for me or not. And there is the fact that Lily and I both wanted to be writers, rolled our hair on grape juice cans, refused to eat grits, and created model fallout shelters for our seventh-grade science projects. We also both had nannies, but otherwise Lily and I are more different than alike.

My favorite piece of personal history that turned up in the novel is the honeybees that lived in a wall of our house when I was growing up. We lived in a big country house in Georgia, where bees lived for many years inside the wall of a guest bedroom, squeezing through the cracks to fly about the house. I remember my mother cleaning up puddles of honey that seeped out, and the unearthly sound of bee hum vibrating through the house. The whole idea for the novel began one evening when my husband reminded me that the first time he'd visited my home to meet my parents, he'd awakened in amazement to find bees flying about the room. After he told that story, I began to imagine a girl lying in bed while bees poured through cracks in her bedroom walls and flew around the room.

I couldn't get the image out of my head. I began asking myself: Who is this girl? What is the desire of her heart? That anonymous girl became Lily Melissa Owens, lying there, yearning for her mother.

Q. Are any of the characters modeled on people you know?

I'm inclined to say that no character in the novel is modeled on a real person, but nothing is ever that simple, is it? As I wrote about Rosaleen, I could hear my own nanny's voice in my head. She had a colorful way with words, and some of her sayings found their way into Rosaleen's mouth. For instance my nanny used to say that if you put her husband's brain into a bird, the bird would fly backward. You may recall that Rosaleen said exactly the same thing about her husband. Like Rosaleen, my nanny was also a connoisseur of snuff. She carried around a snuff cup and had a distinct manner of spitting it that Rosaleen inherited. Other than a few borrowed traits and sayings, however, the two of them weren't that much alike.

While I borrowed some trivial details from my own adolescence and gave them to Lily, she was essentially her own unique creation, just as T. Ray, Deborah, Zach, Clayton, and Neil were. All of them sprang to life the same wayconjured from anonymity. As for August, May, June, and the Daughters of Mary, I'm sure I drew on amorphous memories of growing up around a lot of wonderful Southern, African-American women. As a child, I loved to listen to their stories. But I wasn't thinking of any particular one of them as I wrote. The inspiration for August came mostly from a vision I carry inside, of feminine wisdom, compassion, and strength. I just kept trying to imagine the woman I would've wanted to find if I'd been in Lily's complicated situation.

Q. In the past you have written books of memoir. Would you describe the transition you made from writing nonfiction to fiction? Will you write another nonfiction book in the future?

When I began writing at the age of thirty, my dream was to write fiction, but I was diverted from that almost before I started.

I became enticed by the notion of writing memoir. For over a decade I was compelled by the idea of turning my own life into narratives. My books The Dance of the Dissident Daughter and When the Heart Waits were narratives of my spiritual experience.

I think many people need, even require, a narrative version of their life. I seem to be one of them. Writing memoir is, in some ways, a work of wholeness.

I thought I would go on writing only nonfiction the rest of my life. Ah, but never underestimate the power of a dismissed dream.

I think there must be a place inside of us where dreams go and wait their turn. In the early nineties, my old dream of writing fiction resurfaced. To be honest, initially I was both compelled and repelled by its unexpected return. Compelled because it was a genuine impulse from deep within and had a lot of passion attached to it. Repelled because I was, to put it bluntly, afraid I couldn't do it. The dilemma forced me to come to terms with my fear.

I took on the role of apprentice fiction writer. I read voluminous amounts of literary fiction and set about studying the craft of fiction writing. More important, I practicedwriting short stories and rewriting them. Now, of course, I can't imagine my life apart from writing fiction. Will I, then, write another book of memoir? Oh, undoubtedly. I still have a need to create a narrative of my life. To keep writing it until I see how it turns out.

Q. What was the process of writing the novel? How long did it take to complete it?

The novel began as a short story in 1993. At the time I wrote it, I wanted to develop the story into a novel, but I'd only just begun to write fiction, and felt I needed more time as an apprentice before taking on a novel. I put the story aside. Years later I was invited to read my fiction at the National Arts Club in New York. I dug out my short story, "The Secret Life of Bees." After the reading, I was again filled with the desire to turn it into a novel. I still didn't feel ready, but I figured I might never feel ready, and meanwhile I wasn't getting any younger.

It took me a little over three years to complete the novel. The process of writing it was a constant balancing act between what writing teacher Leon Surmelian referred to as "measure and madness." He suggested that writing fiction should be a blend of these two things. That struck me as exactly true. On one hand, I relied on some very meticulous "measures," such as character studies, scene diagrams, layouts of the pink house and the honey house. I had a big notebook where I worked out the underlying structure of the book. I relied more heavily, however, on trying to conjure "madness," which I think of as an inexplicable and infectious magic that somehow flows into the work. Before I started the novel, I created a collage of images that vividly caught my attention. They included a pink house, a trio of African-American women, and a wailing wall. I propped the collage on my desk with no idea how, or even whether, these things would turn up in the novel. Inducing "madness" also meant that I often left my desk to sit on the dock overlooking the tidal creek behind our house and engage in a stream of reverie about the story. I considered this earnest work.

Q. How does having a sisterhood of women make a difference? Have you experienced such a community?

Isak Dinesen, who wrote Out of Africa, once said, "All sorrows can be borne if we put them in a story or tell a story about them." Ever since I first read that line, I've carried it with me. When women bond together in a community in such a way that "sisterhood" is created, it gives them an accepting and intimate forum to tell their stories and have them heard and validated by others. The community not only helps to heal their circumstance, but encourages them to grow into their larger destiny. This is what happened to Lily. She found a sanctuary of women where she could tell her story, and have it heard and validated—an act that allowed her not only to bear her sorrow but transform it.

I have been part of several communities of women over the years. Each of them was created simply because we wanted a place to tell our deepest stories. In every case we found that there is a way of being together that sustains us, and now and then, if we are lucky, returns us to ourselves.

Q. Where did your interest in Black Madonnas come from? Are there actual Black Madonnas in the world? If so, what is the story behind them? How did a Black Madonna end up in your novel?

For a number years I studied archetypal feminine images of the divine and grew fascinated with how the Virgin Mary has functioned as a Divine Mother for millions of people across the centuries. It was during this period that I inadvertently stumbled upon an array of mysterious black-skinned Madonnas. They captivated me immediately, and I began to explore their history, mythology, and spiritual significance.

Approximately four hundred to five hundred of these ancient Madonnas still exist, most in Europe. They are among the oldest Madonna images in the world, and their blackness is purportedly not related to race or ethnic origins, but has to do with obscure symbolic meanings and connections to earlier goddesses. I traveled to Europe to see some of the Black Madonnas and found them to be images of startling strength and authority. Their stories reveal rebellious, even defiant sides. Black Madonnas in Poland and Central America have been the rallying images for oppressed peoples struggling against persecution.

I decided the Black Madonna had to make an appearance in my novel. I had no idea, though, what a starring role she would end up with. I thought she would be a small statue, sitting quietly in the background of the story. Then I visited a Trappist monastery, where I came upon a statue of a woman that had once been the masthead of a ship. It was deeply scarred and didn't look particularly religious. I asked a young monk about it. He told me she'd washed up on the shores on a Caribbean island and wound up in an antique shop. She wasn't really the Virgin Mary but was purchased and consecrated as Mary. I fell in love with the masthead Mary. I imagined a masthead Black Madonna in the pink house. I pictured fabulous black women in grand hats dancing around her, coming to touch their hands to her heart. I understood in that moment that here was Lily's mother, a powerful symbolic essence that could take up residence inside of her and become catalytic in her transformation. Just like that, the Black Madonna became a full-blown character in the novel.

Q. Did you know anything about bees and beekeeping before you wrote the novel? How did you learn so much about bees?

I knew that bees could live inside the wall of a bedroom in your house. Other than that, I didn't know much at all. I began my bee education by reading lots of books. There's a mystique about bees, a kind of spell they weave over you, and I fell completely under it. I read bee lore and legend that went back to ancient times. I discovered bees were considered a symbol of the soul, of death and rebirth. I will never forget coming upon medieval references which associated the Virgin Mary with the queen bee. I'd been thinking of her as the queen bee of my little hive of women in the pink house, thinking that was very original, and they'd already come up with that five hundred years ago!

Books couldn't tell me everything I needed to know, so I visited an apiary in South Carolina. Inside the honey house, I sketched all the honey-making equipment, trying to get a handle on how they worked. There seemed to be thin veneer of honey everywhere, and my shoes stuck slightly to the floor when I walked, something I could never have learned from a book. When the beekeepers took me out to the hives, I was unprepared for the rush of fear and relish I experienced when the lid on the hive was lifted. I became lost in a whirling cloud of bees. So many, I could hardly see. The scent of honey drifted up, bee hum swelled, and the smoke meant to calm the bees rose in plumes all around us. Beekeeping, I discovered, is a thoroughly sensual and courageous business. I got through my bee education without a single sting. The first time August took Lily to the hives, she told her, "Don't be afraid, as no life-loving bee wants to sting you. Still, don't be an idiot; wear long sleeves and long pants."

Q. Did you know how the novel would end when you began it? Did you consider having T. Ray change his ways by the end, beg for Lily's forgiveness, and admit that he shot Deborah?

When I began the novel, not only did I have no idea of the ending, but I was clueless about the middle. My idea extended only as far as Lily springing Rosaleen free and the two of them running away to Tiburon. I didn't know where they would end up once they got there. At that point the beekeeping Boatwright sisters had not materialized. After I wrote the scene where Lily and Rosaleen walk into Tiburon, I was stuck. I happened to flip through a book where I came upon a quote by Eudora Welty: "People give pain, are callous and insensitive, empty and cruel...but place heals the hurt, soothes the outrage, fills the terrible vacuum that these human beings make." It struck me clearly that I needed to create a place that would do that for Lily. I glanced over at my collage, at the trio of African-American women, and it simply dropped into my headLily would find sanctuary in the home of three black beekeeping sisters. As I neared the conclusion, I knew some aspects of the ending but not all of them. I knew that it would not be in T. Ray's character to change his ways, beg Lily's forgiveness, and admit shooting Deborah. There was never a possibility in my mind of that happening. I knew from the beginning that Lily was actually the one responsible for her mother's death. It was a tragic thing, but it made her situation, her emotional life, more complex and layered. And it made her journey of healing so much more essential and powerful. No, the part I hadn't figured out was where Lily would end up. Would she go back to the peach farm with T. Ray? Would she stay at the pink house? Initially, I couldn't grasp how to work it out so that she would get to stay. I was influenced, too, by my impression (right or wrong) that "happy endings" in literary novels were often sneered at. I decided she would have to go back to the peach farm with T. Ray. Then one night I had a dream in which August came to me, complaining about my idea for an ending. "You must let Lily stay with her 'mothers,'" she told me. I woke a little awed and a lot relieved. I knew immediately that I would take August's advice. It was what I'd really wanted all along.

Q. Do you have plans to follow this novel with a sequel? What are you working on now?

This might sound peculiar, but after I finished the novel, I actually felt homesick for the pink house. I missed being with Lily, August, May, June, Rosaleen, and the Daughters of Mary. I moped around for a couple of weeks as if all my friends had moved away.

I was sure that I would never revisit the story. I didn't want to risk tampering with the world I'd created. I wanted to freeze Lily at this moment of her life, fourteen forever, living in the pink house. Then I went on book tour, and the most frequently asked question that I got from readers was: Will you write a sequel? I was surprised by how strongly readers wanted to know what would happen to the characters. I started off saying that a sequel was really not a possibility. Still the question kept coming, along with disappointed looks when I gave my answer. I began saying, well okay, it's not likely, but I'll think about it. And that's as far as I've gotten. I'm thinking.

Right now I'm working on a second novel set in the Low Country of South Carolina. All I can say is that I'm immersed once again with characters, in a place apart, one that I will undoubtedly miss one day the way I missed the pink house.

  • Were you surprised to learn that T. Ray used to be different, that once he truly loved Deborah? How do you think Deborah's leaving affected him? Did it shed any light on why T. Ray was so cruel and abusive to Lily?
  • Had you ever heard of "kneeling on grits"? What qualities did Lily have that allowed her to survive, endure, and eventually thrive, despite T. Ray?
  • Who is the queen bee in this story?
  • Lily's relationship to her dead mother was complex, ranging from guilt to idealization, to hatred, to acceptance. What happens to a daughter when she discovers her mother once abandoned her? Is Lily rightwould people generally rather die than forgive? Was it harder for Lily to forgive her mother or herself?
  • Lily grew up without her mother, but in the end she finds a house full of them. Have you ever had a mother figure in your life who wasn't your true mother? Have you ever had to leave home to find home?
  • What compelled Rosaleen to spit on the three men's shoes? What does it take for a person to stand up with conviction against brutalizing injustice? What did you like best about Rosaleen?
  • Had you ever heard of the Black Madonna? What do you think of the story surrounding the Black Madonna in the novel? How would the story be different if it had been a picture of a white Virgin Mary? Do you know women whose lives have been deepened or enriched by a connection to an empowering Divine Mother?
  • Why is it important that women come together? What did you think of the "Calendar Sisters" and the Daughters of Mary? How did being in the company of this circle of females transform Lily?
  • May built a wailing wall to help her come to terms with the pain she felt. Even though we don't have May's condition, do we also need "rituals," like wailing walls, to help us deal with our grief and suffering?
  • How would you describe Lily and Zach's relationship? What drew them together? Did you root for them to be together?
  • Project into the future. Does Lily ever see her father again? Does she become a beekeeper? A writer? What happens to Rosaleen? What happens to Lily and Zach? Who would Zach be today?