“Most people don’t have any idea about all the complicated life going on inside a hive. Bees have a secret life we don’t know anything about.”

As she explains the nature of spirituality as it relates to beehives, August speaks these words to Lily in chapter 8. August has taught Lily all about the communities bees keep inside their hives. Amongst other things, Lily has learned of the importance of the female power structure in the bee community: how the queen bee is doted on by a whole team of companions, how she lays the eggs that become every single other bee in the hive, and how this queen bee is the mother of thousands. For Lily, who has lost her mother, this sounds incredibly wonderful. She relates it almost immediately to stories from the Bible, and Lily begins to think of the bees as part God and part Mary, whom August also explains as a spiritual essence that is present everywhere, in everything. Taking these two ideas together, Lily decides that the mother Mary is the mother of thousands, and also in many ways her mother as well.

The fact that Lily is a white girl living with black women, a runaway, and a criminal of sorts, means her life with August must remain a secret—just like the secret life of the bees that goes on inside the hive. In this way, the motherhood Lily believes Mary offers her is parallel to the support and love she gets from August and her community of women, a support that is secret to the world but that nourishes her and keeps her alive. The secret life that bees have is similar to the secret life of Lily Owens. Lily learns about the bees’ secrets from August, while we learn about Lily’s secrets from her first-person narration. Just as the bees produce the sweet honey that August is so attached to, Lily creates a bittersweet coming-of-age story about a young girl who finds strength, love, and family in unlikely circumstances.