Now, full disclosure, I haven’t finished this book–but it’s so damn good that I’m going to recommend it anyways.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, I’ve been trying to read books that I’ve wanted to read for a while, like Pachinko, books that I had started and hadn’t finished, like Amerika by Franz Kafka, and books that I’ve let sit on my bookshelf for an extended amount of time, like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd was one of the books on my bookshelf that was accumulating dust. When I picked it up, I had no idea it would touch on racial issues that are increasingly prevalent in 2020. I mentioned to my best friend that the book would pair well with ongoing events, and she said it was required reading in her high school. I wasn’t lucky enough to have required reading in high school, nor did I have the opportunity to read this book then or even in college.
But picking it up now, knowing what I know about racial injustice, works better in my favor. I feel like if I had picked up this book as a young woman aware of race and gender oppression, but not knowing how to speak out about these injustices in my tight-knit, Republican high school, I may not have paid as much attention as I am now.
And not only is the book a fantastic look at race and inequality, but it also looks at language and how its used (or not). Sue Monk Kidd writes, “Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can’t remember who we are or why we’re here.” My fellow Modcasters will remember the Narrative Theory class we took last Fall, which looked at how stories, through their re/telling, become a part of us. Without stories, without books, our identity could (and most likely would) crumble.
But, like I said, the main focus is on race and systemic violence, such as police brutality. When Rosaleen is arrested, she “falls” and hits her head. Even Lily, who doesn’t understand everything that Zach faces as a young Black man, thinks, “Took a fall, my rear end.” I think Kidd picked a great protagonist, as Lily does have to fight her own racial prejudices as a young white girl, while standing next to Rosaleen, Zach and the Boatwright sisters as they face racists and micro and macroaggressions.
Again, I’m not finished with the book. And, if you’re really trying to educate yourself on systemic violence, racial injustice, or anything along those lines, this probably isn’t the book for you. Why? Because it’s fiction. While fiction can and may educate you, fiction is ultimately only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Black history and narratives. I would highly suggest reading nonfiction or essays on these topics before you read fiction. Or, if you find nonfiction and essays tedious and would rather read fiction, then read fiction by Black writers (some suggestions: The Nickle Boys by Colson Whitehead or Citizen by Claudia Rankine.)
Regardless, if you’re reading this, pick up one of the books gathering dust on your bookshelf and crack it open. You never know what you might find.