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BOOK DISCUSSION GUIDE

Title: The Secret Life Of Bees
Author: Sue Monk Kidd

Summary: Fourteen year-old Lily Owen, neglected by her father and isolated on their South Carolina peach farm, spends hours imagining a blissful infancy when she was loved and nurtured by her mother, Deborah, whom she barely remembers. These consoling fantasies are her heart's answer to the family story that as a child, in unclear circumstances, Lily accidentally shot and killed her mother. All Lily has left of Deborah is a strange image of a Black Madonna, with the words "Tiburon, South Carolina" scrawled on the back. The search for a mother, and the need to mother oneself, are crucial elements in this well-written coming-of-age story set in the early 1960s against a background of racial violence and unrest.

Questions:

Themes: Searching for a mother; Fate, Finding support within oneself

1. Is this a “woman's book"? What are the indications of this?
The characters are primarily female and sympathetic. The males are either one- dimensional (usually evil bigots or bad husbands) or not fully developed (Zach is the exception, but too-good-to-be-true). Does this exclude male readers?

2. Kidd's use of symbols:

water
honey
(black) Madonna
dolphin pin
pink house (w/blue bedroom)
photos
bees (of course) & hives
jails
the “wailing" wall
violence/cruelty

3. Finding worth in minorities is a chief concern. How does this apply to these disenfranchised groups: (1) blacks (2) Catholics (3) women?

4. 1964. What effect does the period have on the story? Much attention is paid to foods, songs, political scene, etc. Could this story be told in any other timeframe?

5. There is a strong feeling that things are “meant to be," a type of fatalism. Coincidence: is it overkill or part of the novel's themes?

6. This is a growing-up story, a bildunsroman. Discuss. In locating the mystery of her mother she dis/un-covers herself.

7. Whites, with the exception of the nondescript lawyer, are universally evil, bigoted. Again, overkill?

8. Discuss the nature of the Sisterhood. It's a religious, social group (see their hats, food, color(s), ceremonies, etc.) Does this make you think of any other similar group?

9. Is this a believable portrayal of a 14-year old? This is told in retrospect, but not, seemingly, from an adult's retrospect. Is this the book Lily is writing?

10 Lily condemns her mother for abandoning her, but not her father (who also has been abandoned). Is this fair? Is it justified?

11. The 3 sisters - Fate? - discuss differences: May's depression (foreshadowed death); June's reluctance to commit, once rejected (is she a fully realized character?); August - "earth mother" - Mother Superior - Beekeeper

12. How does Rosaleen fit into the narrative? sidekick? nanny? victim? Does she develop or change?

13. Does this book deserve a sequel? It seems many have asked for one but the author seems reluctant to commit to one (see endnotes in Penguin ed.). Is she guilty then of "abandonment" of her own characters? Does the book leave one hanging, or is this a satisfying & believable ending?

Related Information:

Interview with Sue Monk Kidd

Audio and Video Clips of Sue Monk Kidd

Questions provided by James Gifford.

This discussion guide made possible with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, a State Agency. Sponsored by the Mohawk Valley Library System and participating member libraries.

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