In 1964, Lily Owens Is a fourteen year old girl living with her abusive father,T. Ray and haunting memories of her mother's death. The fourteen year old lives on a peach farm with her father and her caregiver Rosaleen Daise, a black woman who has been working for the Owens for ten years. Rosaleen is a mother figure to lily and helps her through life. Lily has a vague memory of her mother's death where her father and mother were fighting and a gun was dropped on the floor and she was the one who accidentally shot and killed her mother. Even with this haunting memory, Lily still wants to learn more about her mother even though her father hasn't revealed much about the woman he once loved.
One day Rosaleen saw President Johnson sign the civil rights act and decides to register to vote no matter how risky that is down south. One day Lily and Rosaleen walk into town and a group of white men harass Rosaleen. Rosaleen is not having any of this harassment and gets angry at them, then the men beat her up and the cops come and arrest Rosaleen and bring Lily with her. Lily is brought back home by T.Ray and they begin to get into an argument where Lily decides to stand up to T.Ray, but because of his need to hurt Lily, T.Ray claims that the night her mother was killed, she was trying to leave Lily. Lily refuses to believe this to be true and decides to leave her father and free Rosaleen. When Lily goes to free Rosaleen, she sees that Rosaleen has been beaten by the men who had harassed her earlier while in the jail cell. After she frees her, Lily decides to go to Tiburon, South Carolina. Lily chose this place as a while back she had found a bag of her mother's old things and in that bag was a photo of what looked like a black virgin mary and on the back was written Tiburon, South Carolina. Lily hopes to go here and learn more about her mother. When she gets there, she goes into a grocery store where she sees the photo of the black virgin mary on jars of honey. Lily then asks the store clerk about who sells the honey, it's the Boatrights, a local family with three sisters who are beekeepers.
Lily finds their house right outside of town and is invited to stay. Lily gives a fake story about her past life in hopes of figuring out more about her mother. The three boatright sisters, May, June, August own an impressive 28-acre lot full of bee hives for them to keep. August is the most welcoming of the sisters, even though she does not believe Lily's story of her past life. June is suspicious and distant towards Lily and May is very emotional and often times has trouble with pain. This correlates with May's twin sister committing suicide. As time goes on, Lily helps August with the beekeeping, along with a black teenager named Zach, who Lily develops a crush on. Rosaleen helps inside with May and does some house work.
One day a group call the Daughters of Mary come into the house to meet with the sisters. In the living room of the Boatright house, there is a statue of the Black Virgin Mary which the Daughters sit by as they worship her. Lily wants to join in with the Daughters, but quickly realize that they only see her as white and not one of them. August continually tries to get Lily to tell her the truth about her past life, but Lily is afraid that if she does they will throw her out and won't let her return.
As Zach and Lily become closer, they talk about what they want to do in the future. Lily wants to be a writer and Zach wants to become a lawyer. They both walk into town together one day and go to the lawyer's office who has been mentoring Zach. When Lily is left alone, she impulsively calls her father and tries to tell him off, but he threatens to find her and beat her.
Later, Lily notices May doing something that her mother used to do when she was young and then realizes that May knew her mother. Before Lily could confront August about this, Zach wants to take her into town to get new car parts when some black teenagers throw a bottle at a white man. Zach is arrested with them and Lily heads back to the Boatrights for help. They decide to keep this from May as they don't believe she could handle it. However, with Zach's one phone call, he calls the Boatrights and May answers and is told the horrible news. May is unable to handle everything that has happened and drowns herself in the river.
Zach is released from jail and the whole house mourns the loss of May. After they all mourning, Lily finally talks to August about her mother and surprisingly finds out that August knew who Lily was. August explained the relationship between her mother and father an that her mother planned to divorce T.Ray and left without Lily, but then went back to get her so she could live with her and the sisters T.Ray is able to track down Lily from the phone call from the lawyer's office. They have a big argument and Lily is abused verbally and physically. Lily was able to make him stop and realize that she is not her mother. T.Ray has consistently taken his anger out on Lily for what her mother did. August and Lily are able to convince T.Ray to let Lily live there permanently. At the end of the novel, Lily is now going to highschool and living a much healthier life.
The Drawing: The drawing is of the Black Virgin Mary, a symbol that come up often in the novel. The Black Virgin Mary is very important to August and her sisters. Aust explains to Lily that it is important to fit religious figures into the intended audience, in this case a black virgin Mary for a black community. It is a symbol of power for the sisters and it is what lead Lily to this house where she now will live out the rest of her life.
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