Sunday, February 05, 2006

A Honey-Colored Gold Mine of a Book

I just finished one of the most remarkable books I've ever read.

I tore through The Secret Life of Bees in less than two days. I'd picked it up off of CT's pile of "reading day" books, and was completely engrossed from about page seven. By page 239, I was in tears, and I've never actually cried while reading a book before. It was an exquisite experience, and I've been thinking for the last day and a half about all the rich opportunities this book would provide in a classroom.

The essense of the story is, as I read it, the need for unconditional love and healing. The main character, Lily, loses her mother at a very young age in a set of unclear circumstances. She recognizes early that there's a hole in her being that needs to be filled by someone outside of herself, that she's lacking a mother and all that a mother provides, so she goes out looking for answers. In the end, she finds out more about her mother than she really wanted, but comes to understand more than she ever thought possible.

The book won't appeal to all students; I think that boys will be hard pressed to identify with the female lead character. I can only call to mind four males in the story, and one of them is the abusive father that Lily runs away from. The story can also be seen as sappy and overdone, I think, though it spoke to me in very profound and personal ways.

Still, I think that it provides a lot of rich fodder for the English classroom. There are great opportunities for character studies, a ton of leads into writing exercises, dramatic and poetic expression, and character development beyond what it given to us on the page. There's a moment, for example, when we catch the tiniest of glimpses into the pain that Lily's father, T-Ray, has been beating back within himself all this time and we might - just maybe - begin to understand a little bit about why he treats Lily so horribly. As an English teacher, I would LOVE to see what the kids would write about what went through T-Ray's mind as he leaves Lily in the pink house.

The point of all of this is that I'm really excited about teaching again. I'm seeing potential in nearly everything, and I can't stop thinking about how I would present things to a class.


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