BOOK: The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd (Viking Books, 2002), tells the story of a white girl, 14-year-old Lily Owens, whose mother died under ambiguous circumstances a decade ago. Raised by her cruel father on his South Carolina peach farm, Lily has grown close to Rosaleen, her black nanny, who decides to flee the area after being beaten for insulting some white men who objected to her attempt to register to vote. Lily runs away with her, and together they find friendship and belonging with the "calendar" sisters (April, May, August, etc.).
WHY READ? The novel, set in 1964, the year the Civil Rights Act was passed, highlights the vulnerability and resentment of an oppressed minority, but also mirrors the injustice heaped upon Lily, burdened by an abusive and dangerous father. Lily and Rosaleen embody the loneliness of outcasts, and the community they create with their newfound friends underscores the value of mutual respect and concern. The story doubles as a coming-of-age story as Lily discovers self-knowledge and the thrill of first love.
MAKE IT: When Lily, Rosaleen and the "calendar" sisters celebrate a festival involving the Black Madonna, they eat honey cake, which serves as an appropriate snack to nibble on during a discussion of this novel. Serve with a dollop of sweetened whipped cream and a glass of sweet tea, or a cup of coffee, to which you might add a shot of amaretto, Kahlua, Grand Marnier or some other sweet liqueur.
READ AND WATCH: Now that The Secret Life of Bees has been made into a film directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, you might consider renting it, watching it with your book club, and then discussing how the director (who wrote the screenplay with Sue Monk Kidd) interpreted the story. Dakota Fanning plays Lily; Jennifer Hudson plays Rosaleen. Though the film sticks closely to the plot, the entire book could not be included in the film version. Choices had to be made, and the differences between the book and film might shed some light on what the author (and director) consider the most vital aspects of her story. Watch the movie, have a snack and then share your thoughts with friends. Sounds like the type of evening that the characters in The Secret Life of Bees would admire.
Tom Valeo, Special to the Times
Read & Feed is a monthly column in Taste that matches popular book club selections with food to serve at meetings. If you have suggestions or would like to share what your book club is cooking up, send e-mail to email@example.com. Put BOOK FOOD in the subject line.