The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk Kidd, was published by Viking Press in 2002. It was the first novel by Kidd, who had already found success writing inspirational personal memoirs such as The Dance of the Dissident Daughter (1996). A bestseller, the novel has become a favorite of book clubs around the country, including the "Read This!" Book Club sponsored by the ABC network morning show, Good Morning America.
The Secret Life of Bees is the story of Lily, a fourteen-year-old girl who runs away from her unloving father to search for the secrets of her dead mother's past. The setting of the novel is South Carolina in 1964, a time when racial tensions were inflamed by the civil rights movement and white racists' frequently violent responses to it. Against this backdrop, Lily and her house-keeper, Rosaleen, find shelter in the home of the eccentric Boatwright sisters, three African American beekeepers who worship before the statue of a Black Madonna they call "Our Lady of Chains." In the Boatwright household, Lily finds love and acceptance and begins to come to terms with the guilt she feels over her mother's death.
In the novel, Kidd addresses the sometimes painful divide between races and generations through a rich tapestry of religious symbolism, imagining for the Daughters of Mary (as the Boatwrights and their small circle of fellow worshipers call themselves) a nurturing, personal alternative to the Catholic faith.