“For three years, I drove from a Boston suburb, where I lived at that time, to a seaside pediatric hospital in Providence, Rhode Island. The drive took one hour on a clear sunny day, but became a 3-4 hour journey if a winter blizzard was upon us. As I pondered how to make best use of my travel time, I discovered audiotapes. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd became one of my very favorites.
“The story’s main character is Lily Owen, an endearing 14 year-old girl who, haunted by memories of her late mother and the abuse of her father, runs away from home. She and her African American caregiver, Rosaleen, take off for a small town in South Carolina. The setting and characters immediately struck a chord with me as I grew up in the South, am a pediatrician whose practice focuses on the care of teenagers, was born the year the Civil Rights Act was passed, and grew up thereafter an observer of the often turbulent transition to an integrated South. Recent happenings in Ferguson, Charleston, and even my new home city of Cincinnati remind me that racial tensions remain high and that we have not yet fully transitioned, now 51 years later. If you want to read a well-told story that tugs at heartstrings and taps into the moral conscience, this book will be a match. Watching the relationship unfold between teen aged Lily and her nanny and housekeeper, Rosaleen, is heartwarming as this unlikely pair become “family” even though not biologically related. I will not tell you how the story ends, but must disclose that I was late for work a few mornings, hesitant to get out of the car once at my destination (i.e., the hospital), waiting for a moving chapter to end.
“Eleanor Roosevelt, a historical figure whom I greatly admire, once said about children, “Unless indoctrinated, a child is too logical to understand discrimination.” Lily Owens embodies this quote as she was receptive to kindness irrespective of race (or age or any other discriminating factor). The Secret Life of Bees came along many years after her time, but I am certain that Roosevelt would have shared my fondness for this thought-provoking novel. I am certain it would have been, like mine, one of her “Top 10” favorite books.”
— Catherine M. Gordon, MD, MS, is Director, Division of Adolescent and Transition Medicine, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and Professor of Pediatrics, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.