I won’t lie, I only ended up picking this book up because I saw the trailer for the movie and was interested in it and I can’t watch a movie that I know was a book first without reading the book first. (This post contains a spoiler, if you wish not to read it stop at the * and jump down to the next paragraph)
The story, set in South Carolina in 1964, follows 14-year-old Lily Owens. Lily lives in a house with her abusive father, T.Ray and her entire life has been shaped by the single blurred memory of the day her mother was killed. Though Lily and T.Ray live alone, they have a no nonsense housekeeper named Rosaleen, who is like a surrogate mother to Lily. The story takes off when Rosaleen is arrested for pouring her bottle of “snuff juice” on three white men. When Lily finds out, she breaks Rosaleen out of the hospital she in and the two decide to run away. After hitchhiking they end up at the home of the Boatwright sisters, August, May and June, who make honey. Lily lies and says she’s an orphan and the both Lily and Rosaleen end up being invited to stay with them. To repay the Boatwrights for their kindness, Lily begins working as August’s bee keeping apprentice and Rosaleen does chores around the house. While Lily is working for August she learns about May’s twin, April, who committed suicide some time back, as well as June’s confusing relationship with her boyfriend Neil, whom she downright refuses to marry. She also meet’s Zach, August’s godson, who also helps with the beehives. As Lily and Zach begin talking and telling each other their dreams, they develop romantic feelings for each other. Also, Lily learns of the Boatwrights religion, which they call Daughters of Mary. This is when Lily learns what the Black Mary that is featured on the sisters’ honey and a card that once belonged to her mother, truly means. *Just as things are looking up for Lily and Rosaleen, an outing with Zach results in his arrest and the fear and sadness that follow lead to May committing suicide. A vigil lasting four days is held, and in that time Zach is released from prison. After the family finishes mourning June agrees to marry Neil and Zach tells Lily that one day they will be together. Lily finally tells August the truth, only to discover that August was her mother’s old nanny. August then tells Lily what really happened to her mother in the time leading up to her death. Afterwards, T.Ray shows up looking for Lily. The rest, you’ll have to read to find out.
I really enjoyed this book, and I think anyone who enjoyed The Help will too. It’s got sort of the same feel, but not entirely. While issues that existed in the Black community during that point in history were brought up and examined, that wasn’t really what the whole story was about. I really enjoy historical fiction so this was right up my alley, but I think even if historical fiction isn’t really your thing you’ll find enjoyment in this book, because it’s more about the story than the history. I really enjoyed the characters, their struggles and the growth that they all go through as the story progresses. I liked how the answers weren’t always what Lily wanted to hear, because it made the story more realistic. And, surprisingly enough, I also enjoyed the movie. However, the book was still better and I definitely recommend it.