This book had been on my to read list for a while, so to say I was stoked when I saw it at my local library was an understatement. I had heard it was a coming of age novel, but that was about it.
The novel is set in South Carolina on the cusp of one of the most important times in US history. The Civil Rights Act paved the way for the abolishment of racial segregation, voter equality and racial and religious discrimination. It’s the summer of Martin Luther King and Miles Davis. It’s also the summer that everything changes for Lilly Owens, a 14 year old white girl and her nanny/peach picker/bestie Rosaleen who reside on a peach farm with Lilly’s abusive and horrid father, and the vivid memory of her mother;
“This is what I know about myself. She was all I wanted. And I took her away.”
Even if you’re unfamiliar with the era, you’ll be in the swing of things in to time, thanks to the excellent narration and dialogue. I really enjoyed the characters voice, and found myself chuckling along at her 14 year old curiosity and naivety. The author does well with all the analogies, and it should come as no surprise that while this is a book about bees and beekeeping, it’s also a lot more complex than that.
“I hadn’t been out to the hives before, so to start off she gave me a lesson in what she called ‘bee yard etiquette’. She reminded me that the world was really one bee yard, and the same rules work fine in both places. Don’t be afraid, as no life-loving bee wants to sting you. Still, don’t be an idiot; wear long sleeves and pants. Don’t swat. Don’t even think about swatting. If you feel angry, whistle. Anger agitates while whistling melts a bee’s temper. Act like you know what you’re doing, even if you don’t. Above all, send the bees love. Every little thing wants to be loved.”
After a bad turn of events (understatement of the century, but I ain’t giving anything away!) Lilly and Rosaleen end up outside the painfully pink home of the affectionately named ‘calendar sisters’; August, June and May Boatwright. The girls are half running away, and half searching for the secrets behind Lilly’s mothers death. (And in Rosaleen’s case, sweet, sweet snuff!) Lilly is possibly doing both, too scared to face the truth, because once you know, you can never really un-know…you know?
“Knowing can be a curse on a person’s life. I’d traded in a pack of lies for a pack of truth, and I didn’t know which one was heavier. Which one took the most strength to carry around? It was a ridiculous question, though, because once you know the truth, you can’t ever go back and pick up your suitcase of lies. Heavier or not, the truth is yours now.”
Overall, I loved the setting, the story and the characters. The writing was top notch . There were bits that made me really think, bits that made me laugh and bits that made me cry. There were so many good quotes and analogies in this book they literally stole my breath away, and I found I had to sit and digest before moving on to the next chapter. The characters are heartwarming, and the central theme of searching for self, and independence were inspiring.
“Up until then I’d thought that white people and colored people getting along was the big aim, but after that I decided everybody being colorless together was a better plan. I thought of that policeman, Eddie Hazelwurst, saying I’d lowered myself to be in this house of colored women, and for the very life of me I couldn’t understand how it had turned out this way, how colored women had become the lowest ones on the totem pole. You only had to look at them to see how special they were, like hidden royalty among us. Eddie Hazelwurst. What a shitbucket.”
I really recommend this novel to anyone who enjoyed The Help, To Kill a Mockingbird and coming of age films like Now & Then.