The Secret Life of Bees Book Summary, Review and Characters, Sue Monk Kidd


What is the summary of the book The Secret Life of Bees written by Sue Monk Kidd? Information about the summary, characters and analysis of The Secret Life of Bees.

the secret life of bees

The Secret Life of Bees

“The Secret Life of Bees” is a novel written by Sue Monk Kidd. Set in the 1960s, it tells the story of a young girl named Lily Owens who runs away from her abusive father with her African-American housekeeper and caregiver, Rosaleen. They find refuge in the home of three beekeeping sisters, August, June, and May Boatwright.

The book explores various themes, including the search for identity, the power of female relationships, racial tensions and prejudice, forgiveness, and the healing power of love. The bees serve as a central metaphor throughout the story, symbolizing the interconnectedness of life and the importance of community and communication.

Lily’s journey towards self-discovery and understanding is intertwined with the beekeeping practices taught to her by August. Through her interactions with the Boatwright sisters and the hive, Lily learns about the complexities of life, the significance of female empowerment, and the importance of embracing one’s own unique voice.


“The Secret Life of Bees” delves into issues of racism and discrimination, particularly through the lens of the civil rights movement in the United States. The characters navigate the challenges of racial segregation and oppression, highlighting the resilience and strength of African-American women during a turbulent time in history.

Overall, the novel explores themes of love, healing, and the transformative power of personal growth. It delves into the depths of human emotions and showcases the potential for change and redemption. Through its compelling characters and poignant storytelling, “The Secret Life of Bees” offers a thought-provoking exploration of identity, compassion, and the universal need for belonging.

Book Summary

“The Secret Life of Bees” is a coming-of-age novel set in South Carolina during the 1960s. The story revolves around Lily Owens, a 14-year-old white girl who lives with her abusive father, T. Ray, on a peach farm. Lily carries the weight of guilt and confusion regarding her mother’s death, which occurred when she was just four years old.

The novel opens with Lily and her African-American housekeeper, Rosaleen, going into town to register to vote. Rosaleen gets into a confrontation with three racist white men and is arrested. Lily, feeling responsible for Rosaleen’s arrest, helps her escape from the hospital where she was being held. The two run away and eventually find themselves in the small town of Tiburon.

In Tiburon, they are drawn to a beekeeping farm owned by three African-American sisters: August, June, and May Boatwright. Lily introduces herself as Jesse and claims that she and Rosaleen are on their way to Augusta, Georgia. August, the wise and kind-hearted eldest sister, allows them to stay at their farm, which serves as a sanctuary for the women.

Lily becomes fascinated by the bees and beekeeping practices at the farm. She learns about the Black Madonna, a statue that holds special significance for August and the sisters’ religious practices, which blend elements of Christianity with African spirituality. August becomes a mother figure to Lily, providing her with love, guidance, and knowledge about life.

As the story unfolds, Lily begins to uncover the truth about her mother’s past and her own identity. She discovers that her mother, Deborah Fontanel Owens, once lived in Tiburon and had a deep connection with the Boatwright sisters. Lily learns about her mother’s struggles with racial inequality and her desire to escape her unhappy marriage to T. Ray.


Lily’s journey of self-discovery is paralleled by the struggles faced by the Boatwright sisters. June, the middle sister, is resistant to Lily’s presence and harbors unresolved grief from her past. May, the youngest sister, is deeply sensitive and often overwhelmed by the pain and suffering in the world. The sisters’ bond and support for one another provide a strong foundation for their collective strength and resilience.

Throughout the novel, racial tensions and prejudice are explored. The backdrop of the civil rights movement in the 1960s amplifies the challenges faced by African-Americans, as well as the white characters who ally themselves with the cause. The characters navigate the complexities of race and privilege, ultimately emphasizing the importance of unity and understanding.

As Lily continues to uncover the truth about her mother and her own identity, she confronts her own prejudices and learns valuable lessons about love, forgiveness, and the power of female relationships. She realizes the importance of embracing her own voice and finding her place in the world.

In the climax of the novel, tragedy strikes when May, overwhelmed by the pain of the world, takes her own life. This event serves as a catalyst for emotional growth and healing among the characters. Lily comes to terms with her past, finds forgiveness for her father, and learns to embrace her connection with the Boatwright sisters and the larger community.

“The Secret Life of Bees” concludes with Lily understanding the importance of love, acceptance, and the power of finding one’s true family. The novel leaves the reader with a sense of hope, as Lily and the Boatwright sisters come together to create a new beginning based on love, unity, and the shared understanding of life’s complexities.


  • Lily Owens: The protagonist and narrator of the story, a 14-year-old white girl who is searching for answers about her mother’s death and her own identity. Lily is resilient, curious, and yearns for love and acceptance.
  • Rosaleen Daise: Lily’s African-American housekeeper and caregiver. Rosaleen is strong-willed, protective, and serves as a source of support and guidance for Lily. She becomes a central figure in the civil rights movement and faces racial discrimination.
  • August Boatwright: The wise and nurturing matriarch of the Boatwright sisters. August is a beekeeper and serves as a surrogate mother figure to Lily. She is compassionate, spiritual, and embodies strength and resilience.
  • June Boatwright: August’s younger sister, who is resistant to Lily’s presence at first. June is a talented cellist and holds unresolved grief from a past tragedy. She is portrayed as independent, guarded, and eventually learns to embrace love and connection.
  • May Boatwright: The youngest sister of the Boatwright family. May is deeply sensitive and struggles with the pain and suffering in the world. She is portrayed as kind-hearted, compassionate, and ultimately tragically affected by the weight of the world.
  • T. Ray Owens: Lily’s abusive father. T. Ray is a stern and emotionally distant character who carries a heavy burden of guilt. Lily seeks his love and approval throughout the story, but ultimately finds healing by breaking away from his control.
  • Deborah Fontanel Owens: Lily’s deceased mother, whose memory and past actions shape much of the narrative. Deborah is portrayed as a complex character who struggled against racial prejudice and faced her own personal demons.
  • Zachary Taylor: A young African-American boy who befriends Lily in Tiburon. Zach is determined, ambitious, and faces his own share of racial discrimination. He becomes a source of support and friendship for Lily.

These are some of the key characters in “The Secret Life of Bees.” Each character contributes to the development of the story’s themes, explores the complexities of race and identity, and adds depth and emotional resonance to the narrative.

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