I just finished reading The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. For those who are regular GUIDEPOSTS readers, this name is very familiar. I had read a few of her earlier books, such as God's Joyful Surprise and When the Heart Waits, but was turned off from further reading when she started going further into "feminine spirituality."
That is an important point that I will get back to in a moment.
The Secret Life of Bees is the story of Lily, a 14-yr old girl growing up in Sylvan, South Carolina in the early 60s. She is tormented by a father who does not love her and the memories of her mother, who died tragically when Lily was four. In order to escape the present and make some sense of her past, she and her black "stand-in mother" Rosaleen make their way to Tiburon, South Carolina, and find refuge in the home of three black bee-keeping sisters.
The story is well-written and managed to keep my interest quite nicely. As far as fiction novels go, I think the author did a nice job -- good character development, good plot, and the ending "worked." There were some problems with the story, but on the whole I thought it flowed nicely.
My problem, of course, relates to what I said at the beginning: feminine spirituality. The characters in the book have created a cult based on the Blessed Virgin Mary, in which they have elevated her to what I can only guess is some sort of feminine deity. It was very uncomfortable to see various aspects of Catholicism twisted -- in particular, the Eucharist -- and made part of this goddess worship. I understand that the author wanted to focus on the feminine, and tie it in with the life of bees (duh... hence the title); however, it was extremely uncomfortable for me to read and, for that reason, I can't recommend it wholeheartedly.