A dear friend sent me the book “The Secret Life of Bees” for my birthday. I read it over a handful of days this past week-end. I cared about the characters and was carried along by the prose.
I enjoyed the book, but I have to say that it reads best as a feminist novel; a novel about how women can empower and validate one another by creating a sisterhood and telling one another our stories in a supporting environment. I loved how the women supported and understood one another’s mourning, grief, and rage, and no one ever said, “Oh, you are over-reacting” or “I’m sure that’s not what happened” (I have noticed that men often say this to women, thinking they are being comforting, when [in fact] they are invalidating our experiences). This was a wonderful tribute to my friendship with the amazing woman who sent me the book.
Coming from a South Carolina family, I enjoyed the sheer southern-ness of it as well.
I didn’t think that it worked as well as a novel about racism. For one, I think it’s all too easy for *some* readers to think “I’m glad we’re past that” or “Only in South Carolina.” One, we aren’t past “that” and two, racism in South Carolina may be in the open, but it’s far from worse there than anywhere else. Additionally, all of the black women were sterotypical in some way, lovable as the characters were. Except for May, they were mystical mommy stand-ins, and I don’t think I have to go into why that is problematic. And honestly, there are better sources than me for explaining WHY that’s a problem
Perhaps that short-coming is inevitable when a novel is about a young white girl’s awakening to the unfairness of racism, but still…
I haven’t seen the movie, and I might. As much as I can see the problems with the book, I did enjoy it, and it spoke in quiet, wonderful ways about the friend who gave it to me. But I’m not sure about the movie. Would it have been that hard to find a little girl with curly black hair to play Lily? And Rosaleen, who in the book is enormously fat, is played by Jennifer Hudson, who is far from any kind of fat. Did a sexy, sexy woman have to be cast as this character? Would she have been too challenging to people if she wasn’t pretty?
I don’t know. Other than the aspect of this novel that ties into the “sisterhood” I have formed with the friend who gave it to me, I have mixed feelings.
What do ya’ll think?