I almost feel bad for giving this book three stars because the story was charming, and the main thing with the bees was kind of clever, but ultimately, the writing got in my way.
Maybe I just really have a thing against first person, but it's so, so easy to fuck it up. First person may sound easy to pull off, but it's not. You have to be a seriously great writer to be able to inhabit the mind of a fictional character to the point where readers can forget that they're reading. I never once forgot that I was reading a book when I was reading The Secret Life of Bees. The book is told from the POV of fourteen year old Lily Owens, who is at times a really pleasant POV character, and other times like a splinter under your thumbnail. There are just certain words and phrases that people do not think, and Sue Monk Kidd seems to have found all of them, being under the impression that they are "beautiful" and "writerly." The thing that bothered me the most was her obsession with Lily's body, and not in the good way. There are many ways to convey feeling, chief among them just saying "I was sad." Or, "I was angry." Simple, right? Instead, Kidd is like "The soft places under my knees were warm and hot and the creases in my flesh were soaked in sweat." This might have been okay and even great if it had happened once, but every damn time Lily feels anything, she's always starts yammering about her body, particularly her "chest," which seems to hold more inside of it than the normal human chest times ten. I'm thinking she might be an alien.
On top of all this, the ending was very anti-climactic and sort of missed the point. I did really enjoy some of the quieter places in the novel, mostly in the middle when Lily was getting to know the Boatwright sisters, and all the stuff about civil rights and racial integration, but by the end I was done. All in all, this book isn't a bad read at all, if you're willing to put up with the above stuff. If they hadn't annoyed me so much, I probably would have really liked it.