illustration of the back of main character Lily Owens's head with a honeycomb background

The Secret Life of Bees

by Sue Monk Kidd

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Critical Overview

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The Secret Life of Bees was met with generally positive reviews when it was published in 2002. Sue Monk Kidd had already established a reputation for herself as a writer of inspirational literature, and many reviewers seemed to approach the novel in that spirit, praising it for its upbeat message of the power of love. Jarrod Zickefoose, writing in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, suggests that the reader must force sympathy for Lily, but that "August's deep spirituality, her security and her wisdom form a character that permeates the pages." In the April 2002 Women's Review of Books, Rosellen Brown ultimately concludes that the novel "has less sting in the end than its swarm of griefs would seem to promise," but admires Kidd's vision of "a sort of beloved community, part Oz, part ashram, part center for racial reconciliation." The novel was well received in England as well, as indicated by Rachel Simhon's review in February 23, 2002, edition of the Daily Telegraph. Simhon describes the novel as "by turns funny, sad, full of incident and shot through with grown-up magic."

As the novel became a success in book clubs and reading groups around the country, it continued to garner positive notices. Ann-Janine Morey, writing in the February 22, 2003, issue of Christian Century, observed that the racial plot of the novel was "imperfectly integrated" with the story of Lily's spiritual journey, but recommends "this captivating first novel about love and forgiveness" to both adult and younger readers. The Secret Life of Bees sold 3.5 million copies and spent nearly two years on the New York Times bestseller list, and a motion-picture adaptation is in the works.

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Criticism