The Secret Life of Bees

The Secret Life of Bees is the story of how Lily, a 14-year-old girl from South Carolina, struggles to make sense of her relationship with her mother and father, the black community, and the people she meets in the course of her adventures. Impulsive and adventurous, Lily runs away from her cruel, abusive father (T. Ray Owens), and journeys to the town of Tiburon to find information about her dead mother, Deborah Fontanel Owens. During the course of her time in Tiburon, Lily truly comes of age. She overcomes her feelings of awkwardness and hostility to the black community, and also starts to embrace the values of Christianity. Much of Kidd’s novel is concerned with Lily coming to terms with her mother, Deborah. Although at first Lily idolizes her mother, she’s shocked to learn that Deborah abandoned her when Lily was a small child. Lily also struggles with the possibility that she may have accidentally killed Deborah as a child. With the help of August Boatwright and other inhabitants of Tiburon, Lily matures as a human being by forgiving her mother, forgiving herself, and accepting that no one is perfect. As the novel ends, Lily has come to accept August’s Christian teachings: she learns to love others and love herself, overcoming her conflicted feelings about her parents.

Lily Owens Quotes in The Secret Life of Bees

The The Secret Life of Bees quotes below are all either spoken by Lily Owens or refer to Lily Owens. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Books edition of The Secret Life of Bees published in 2003.
Chapter 1 Quotes

Time folded in on itself then. What is left lies in clear yet disjointed pieces in my head. The gun shining like a toy in her hand, how he snatched it away and waved it around, The gun on the floor. Bending to pick it up. The noise that exploded around us. This is what I know about myself. She was all I wanted. And I took her away.

Related Characters: Lily Owens (speaker), Deborah Fontanel Owens
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:

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I used to have daydreams in which she was white and married T. Ray, and became my real mother. Other times I was a Negro orphan she found in a cornfield and adopted.

Related Characters: Lily Owens (speaker), Rosaleen, T. Ray Owens
Page Number: 12
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 2 Quotes

“Well, if you ain’t noticed, she’s colored,” said Rosaleen, and I could tell it was having an effect on her by the way she kept gazing at it with her mouth parted. I could read her thought: If Jesus’ mother is black, how come we only know about the white Mary?

Related Characters: Lily Owens (speaker), Rosaleen (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Black Virgin Mary, The Black Virgin Mary
Page Number: 52
Explanation and Analysis:

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“You act like you’re my keeper. Like I’m some dumb nigger you gonna save.”

Related Characters: Rosaleen (speaker), Lily Owens
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:

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I opened my mouth. I wanted something. Something, I didn’t know what. Mother, forgive. That’s all I could feel. That old longing spread under me like a great lap, holding me tight.

Related Characters: Lily Owens (speaker)
Page Number: 55
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 3 Quotes

According to Brother Gerald, hell was nothing but a bonfire for Catholics.

Related Characters: Lily Owens (speaker), Brother Gerald
Page Number: 58
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 4 Quotes

The lips on the statue had a beautiful, bossy half smile, the sight of which caused me to move both my hands up to my throat. Everything about that smile said, Lily Owens, I know you down to the core.

Related Characters: Lily Owens (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Black Virgin Mary
Page Number: 71
Explanation and Analysis:

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I walked the length of the fence, and it was the same all the way, hundreds of these bits of paper. I pulled one out and opened it, but the writing was too blurred from rain to make out. I dug another one. Birmingham, Sept 15, four little angels dead.

Related Characters: Lily Owens (speaker), May Boatwright
Related Symbols: The Stone Wall
Page Number: 80
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 5 Quotes

“Mary smiled at Beatrix, then led her back to her room and gave her back her nun outfit. You see, Lily, all that time Mary had been standing in for her.”

Related Characters: August Boatwright (speaker), Lily Owens
Related Symbols: The Black Virgin Mary
Page Number: 91
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 7 Quotes

At my school they made fun of colored people’s lips and noses. I myself had laughed at these jokes, hoping to fit in. Now I wished I could pen a letter to my school to be read at an opening assembly that would tell them how wrong we’d all been. You should see Zachary Taylor, I’d say.

Related Characters: Lily Owens (speaker), Zachary Taylor / Zach
Page Number: 116
Explanation and Analysis:

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“Lily, I like you better than any girl I’ve ever known, but you have to understand, there are people who would kill boys like me for even looking at girls like you.”

Related Characters: Zachary Taylor / Zach (speaker), Lily Owens
Page Number: 135
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 8 Quotes

“Well,” August said, going right on with her pasting, “you know, she’s really just the figurehead off an old ship, but the people needed comfort and rescue, so when they looked at it, they saw Mary, and so the spirit of Mary took it over. Really, her spirit is everywhere, Lily, just everywhere.”

Related Characters: August Boatwright (speaker), Lily Owens
Related Symbols: The Black Virgin Mary
Page Number: 141
Explanation and Analysis:

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“What I mean is that the bees weren’t really singing the words from Luke, but still, if you have the right kind of ears, you can listen to a hive and hear the Christmas story somewhere inside yourself.”

Related Characters: August Boatwright (speaker), Lily Owens
Related Symbols: Bees
Page Number: 144
Explanation and Analysis:

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“Egg laying is the main thing, Lily. She’s the mother of every bee in the hive, and they all depend on her to keep it going. I don’t care what their job is—they know the queen is their mother. She’s the mother of thousands.”

Related Characters: August Boatwright (speaker), Lily Owens
Related Symbols: Bees
Page Number: 149
Explanation and Analysis:

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Have you ever written a letter you knew you could never mail but you needed to write it anyway?

Related Characters: Lily Owens (speaker)
Page Number: 161
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 9 Quotes

Outside, the night sky was moving over us. I was aware of it, aware of the way Clayton had said he seemed all right, as if we all understood he wasn’t but would pretend otherwise. August closed her eyes, used her fingers to smooth out the skin on her forehead. I saw a shiny film on her eyes—the beginning of tears. Looking at her eyes, I could see a fire inside them.

Related Characters: Lily Owens (speaker), August Boatwright, Zachary Taylor / Zach, Clayton Forrest
Page Number: 181
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 10 Quotes

But I will tell you this secret thing, which not one of them saw, not even August, the thing that brought me the most cause for gladness. It was how Sugar-Girl said what she did, like I was truly one of them. Not one person in the room said, Sugar-Girl, really, talking about white people like that and we have a white person present. They didn’t even think of me as being different.

Related Characters: Lily Owens (speaker), August Boatwright, Sugar Girl
Page Number: 208
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 11 Quotes

“I’m sorry for being so hard on you when you first got here…”

Related Characters: June Boatwright (speaker), Lily Owens
Page Number: 226
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 12 Quotes

“It hurts, I know it does. Let it out. Just let it out.”

Related Characters: August Boatwright (speaker), Lily Owens
Page Number: 238
Explanation and Analysis:

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Kneeling on the floor, unable to stop shuddering, I heard it plainly. It said, You are unlovable, Lily Owens. Unlovable. Who could love you? Who in this world could ever love you?

Related Characters: Lily Owens (speaker)
Page Number: 242
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 14 Quotes

In a weird way I must have loved my little collection of hurts and wounds. They provided me with some real nice sympathy, with the feeling I was exceptional. I was the girl abandoned by her mother. I was the girl who kneeled on grits. What a special case I was.

Related Characters: Lily Owens (speaker), Deborah Fontanel Owens, T. Ray Owens
Page Number: 278
Explanation and Analysis:

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Drifting off to sleep, I thought about her. How nobody is perfect. How you just have to close your eyes and breathe out and let the puzzle of the human heart be what it is.

Related Characters: Lily Owens (speaker), Deborah Fontanel Owens
Page Number: 285
Explanation and Analysis:

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He stood over me. “Deborah,” I heard him mumble. “You’re not leaving me again.” His eyes looked frantic, scared. I wondered if I’d heard him right.

Related Characters: Lily Owens (speaker), T. Ray Owens (speaker), Deborah Fontanel Owens
Page Number: 294
Explanation and Analysis:

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Lily Owens Character Timeline in The Secret Life of Bees

The timeline below shows where the character Lily Owens appears in The Secret Life of Bees. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
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...narrator’s room, he finds no bees, and angrily tells the narrator—whose name, we learn, is Lily Owens—“this isn’t funny.” (full context)
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Lily’s only memory of her mother (Deborah, as we learn later) concerns the day of her... (full context)
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Lily and T. Ray live in the town of Sylvan, South Carolina. Lily is an unpopular... (full context)
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The morning after she wakes T. Ray, Lily tries to catch a bee to prove that she wasn’t lying last night. She shows... (full context)
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Lily’s mother was named Deborah, she recalls. Deborah—whose name T. Ray refuses to say anymore—was born... (full context)
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Lily spends her afternoon selling the peaches her father picks. This is her summer job—an extremely... (full context)
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Lily remembers the day when she was 6, and T. Ray found her sticking a nail... (full context)
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Lily tells T. Ray she remembers the day her mother died. Angry and surprised, T. Ray... (full context)
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At 6 pm on the hot July day, Lily walks back to the house. She finds Rosaleen in the living room, watching the television... (full context)
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At dinner that evening, Lily brings up her birthday to T. Ray. She tells him she’d like to have a... (full context)
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The next morning, T. Ray orders Lily to go to the peach stand and “do some work.” Lily nods, but secretly decides... (full context)
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In the evening, Rosaleen tells Lily that she’ll be in town tomorrow, rather than coming in to clean the house. Lily... (full context)
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When her father gets home, Lily tells him that she’s going to walk into town with Rosaleen to “buy some sanitary... (full context)
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In the morning, Rosaleen presents Lily with a cake for her birthday. Lily gratefully eats some of the cake, and then... (full context)
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A priest named Brother Gerald greets Lily, but looks uncomfortable around Rosaleen, who, as a black woman, isn’t allowed in the church.... (full context)
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Lily and Rosaleen proceed to the “bad part” of Sylvan. They see a group of rough-looking... (full context)
Chapter 2
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Immediately after the events of the previous chapter, the police drive Lily and Rosaleen to the police station. The police officer who drives them is Avery Gaston,... (full context)
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Inside the jail, the police officers force Lily and Rosaleen to sit in a cell. Lily is sure that T. Ray will get... (full context)
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Back at home, T. Ray orders Lily not to leave her room. Quietly, Lily replies, “You don’t scare me.” T. Ray tries... (full context)
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Lily sits in her room, struggling to understand what she’s just heard. She wonders if it’s... (full context)
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Lily walks along the road to the center of the town. As she walks, she decides... (full context)
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At the police station, Brother Gerald and Lily learn from Gaston that Rosaleen has been sent to the hospital because of her injuries—after... (full context)
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Despite Gaston’s warning, Lily goes to the “colored wing” of the hospital. She’s able to sneak by a nurse,... (full context)
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While Rosaleen rests, Lily finds a pay phone, and uses it to call the nurse in the colored wing... (full context)
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Shortly after her phone call, Lily tells Rosaleen that it’s time to leave: the officers have left. Rosaleen walks with Lily,... (full context)
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Lily and Rosaleen ride with the man for 90 miles, and when he lets them out,... (full context)
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Lily tells Rosaleen what T. Ray told her about Deborah. Rosaleen agrees with Lily that it’s... (full context)
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When Lily wakes up, Rosaleen is nowhere to be seen. She feels regret for yelling at Rosaleen,... (full context)
Chapter 3
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Lily gains new respect for nature after she bathes in the stream with Rosaleen. She imagines... (full context)
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...for Tiburon, walking past barns and cows. They’re both extremely hungry, and their stomachs growl. Lily realizes that it’s Sunday, meaning that all the stores in Tiburon will be closed. Rosaleen... (full context)
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Rosaleen and Lily arrive at a general store, which is open, even though it’s Sunday. While Rosaleen waits... (full context)
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Rosaleen and Lily walk toward August’s house. Lily stops at the post office to check if there are... (full context)
Chapter 4
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Rosaleen and Lily have come to August Boatwright’s house. They watch a black woman, presumably August, walking outside... (full context)
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August Boatwright enters the room and greets Rosaleen and Lily. August notices that Rosaleen has been hurt recently, and before anyone can say anything, she... (full context)
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In the afternoon, August takes Lily and Rosaleen to the “honey house,” where August makes and bottles her honey. Inside, Lily... (full context)
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The next morning, Lily goes for a walk around August’s house. She finds a stone wall with hundreds of... (full context)
Chapter 5
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The chapter is focused on Lily and Rosaleen’s first week with August and her sisters. During this time, Lily is in... (full context)
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...spiders and eating bananas. June teaches English in a local black high school. One night, Lily overhears June and August talking about her: June says she knows Lily is lying about... (full context)
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Every evening, Lily and Rosaleen eat dinner with the Boatwrights while watching the news on TV. They learn... (full context)
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At night, everyone kneels before the 3-foot statue—a statue of the Virgin Mary—and prays. Lily is confused when the Boatwrights call the statue, “Our Lady of Chains.” August explains that... (full context)
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One evening, August tells Lily a story. In the story, a young nun decides to leave her convent to explore... (full context)
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A week has passed since Lily and Rosaleen came to the Boatwrights’ house. That evening, August shows Lily how the queen... (full context)
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Lily asks August about the stone wall with the pieces of paper, and August explains that... (full context)
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Lily goes to bed in the honey house, and thinks about her parents, especially her mother.... (full context)
Chapter 6
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The next morning, Lily wakes up and finds a tall black man working outside the Boatwright house. She goes... (full context)
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June and Neil walk inside, and June asks what’s upset May. Impulsively Lily answers that May’s upset that June and Neil won’t get married. Neil laughs and introduces... (full context)
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...and dance together. One by one, they leave the house and return to their lives. Lily is intimidated by what she’s seen—she senses that she doesn’t belong here at all. Suddenly,... (full context)
Chapter 7
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...July 13, and Zach, August’s assistant, has returned from his vacation. He introduces himself to Lily as Zachary Taylor. He’s a few years older than Lily, and wears a dogtag with... (full context)
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Because August is checking on hives at another farm, Zach and Lily proceed with making honey. Zach tells Lily about his love for Miles Davis, and they... (full context)
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Lily, August, and Zach soon settle into a routine. They spend the day extracting and mixing... (full context)
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It’s been two weeks since Lily arrived with Rosaleen. One day, June approaches Lily and asks her how much longer she’s... (full context)
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One night, Neil comes to the Boatwrights’ house and has a hushed conversation with June. Lily eavesdrops on the conversation, and overhears Neil saying he’s not going to “wait forever.” Suddenly... (full context)
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August sends Zach and Lily out to harvest some beehives. Zach drives a honey cart along the road while Lily... (full context)
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After their near-kiss, Zach and Lily drive the honey wagon back to the house. During the ride, Zach points out a... (full context)
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Lily and Zach return to the Boatwright house, where she finds that Rosaleen is moving from... (full context)
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Lily sees August reading a book outside. August asks Lily if she’s okay with the new... (full context)
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Lily and August hear a fight on the other side of the house. Lily sees Neil... (full context)
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Lily can’t stop thinking about Zach. That night, she can’t fall asleep—partly because she’s alone for... (full context)
Chapter 8
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July comes to an end, and Lily and Rosaleen are still living with the Boatwrights. Lily imagines naming herself after a month... (full context)
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One day, August tells Lily to glue images of the black Virgin Mary to the honey jars. As Lily looks... (full context)
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August tells Lily a secret. The black statue in her house isn’t really the Virgin Mary at all;... (full context)
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August tells Lily more about her grandmother: she taught August how to take care of bees. Her grandmother... (full context)
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August continues to tell Lily about her life. She and June studied at a teachers’ college in Maryland, but they... (full context)
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August and Lily go out to inspect the hives (just as Lily and Zach did a few weeks... (full context)
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In the afternoon, Lily and August return to the house for a late lunch. June and May are preparing... (full context)
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Zach and Lily walk down Main Street toward the house of a prominent attorney named Clayton Forrest. Outside,... (full context)
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Mr. Forrest emerges from his office and invites Lily and Zach inside. He introduces himself to Lily, and tells her that August is a... (full context)
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While Lily waits, she has an idea. She goes to the telephone outside Forrest’s office and uses... (full context)
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...carrying a heavy legal book, which Forrest has instructed him to study well. Forrest greets Lily and begins to ask her questions about her parents. Before she can be caught in... (full context)
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Lily goes home and writes a letter to T. Ray, even though she knows she could... (full context)
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Late at night, Lily wanders through the Boatwright house. She sees the statue of the Virgin Mary and observes... (full context)
Chapter 9
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It’s July 28, a “day for the record books,” Lily claims. It’s an especially hot day, but everyone goes about the house, making honey as... (full context)
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Lily and August come back from the hives to eat lunch. After their meal, Rosaleen finds... (full context)
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In the afternoon it gets even hotter. Lily rests in the honey house and thinks about her call to T. Ray. She wants... (full context)
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Lily goes into the house for a drink of water, and finds May sitting in the... (full context)
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The next morning, Lily goes into the house and greets the Boatwrights. They can tell that something is off... (full context)
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On Friday afternoon, Lily takes the photograph of her mother and goes to talk to August about Deborah. As... (full context)
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Lily watches as Zach crosses the street to go to the store. He greets a trio... (full context)
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Lily watches as the police arrest Zach and his friends. Horrified, Lily runs back to the... (full context)
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Lily goes to the jailhouse, along with August. August tells the jailer, a man named Eddie... (full context)
Chapter 10
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Lily sits in the kitchen with August, June, and Rosaleen while May goes to the stone... (full context)
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...as they pull May to the shore, she doesn’t move. August whispers, “We’ve lost her.” Lily imagines May rolling the rock, holding it tight, and then jumping into the water to... (full context)
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Lily and Rosaleen sit in the police station, being questioned by Eddie Hazelwurst. After the group... (full context)
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...perform an autopsy, and August organizes a public vigil for her sister. August explains to Lily that the vigil will help May get into Heaven as quickly as possible. Leading up... (full context)
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August takes Zach and Lily to “drape the hives”—cover them with a veil in honor to May. The purpose of... (full context)
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...looks so good they should hang it in a drive-by window at the funeral home. Lily says that they could hang May’s body in a bank window, and the guests reply... (full context)
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...this time, the funeral home comes to pick up May’s body to be buried, and Lily goes outside to listen to the sound of the bees humming in their hives. She... (full context)
Chapter 11
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...August stops making honey, and she and June eat their meals alone in their rooms. Lily feels a strong need to talk to August, but can’t find the courage to do... (full context)
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...and June and Neil go for car rides together. Zach visits, and on one visit Lily asks him if they’d be dating if she were a black girl. Zach replies that... (full context)
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One day, Lily finds Rosaleen in the kitchen setting the table for four. Lily is pleased, since this... (full context)
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Although Lily has been staying in May’s old room with Rosaleen, she decides to sleep in the... (full context)
The next morning, Lily wakes up and goes downstairs, where June tells her that today is August 15—the Feast... (full context)
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...of the Boatwright house proceeds with work for Mary Day, overjoyed by June’s good news. Lily makes garlands all day, and the Boatwrights offer to make Lily a hat for the... (full context)
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In the late evening, Zach and Lily take a walk outside. They walk by a stream, and Lily thinks about taking off... (full context)
Chapter 12
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Lily sits in August’s room, waiting to ask her about Deborah. She’s only been here once... (full context)
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August enters the room and finds Lily waiting for her. Lily reminds August that August wanted to have a talk with her... (full context)
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August tries to tell Lily everything. Years ago, she says, she worked as a maid in Deborah’s house in Richmond.... (full context)
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After she’s finished crying, Lily explains the rest of her story: she and Rosaleen snuck out of Sylvan after Rosaleen... (full context)
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August comforts Lily, telling her that everyone loves her—even June, who resented Deborah. Confused, Lily asks August what... (full context)
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August takes Lily outside for “a little breather.” Outside, Lily gives August the “missing piece” of the story:... (full context)
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...mother beginning in 1931. Deborah had an active imagination, and even had an imaginary friend. Lily points out that she and her mother aren’t alike at all, but August disagrees—she points... (full context)
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...to South Carolina, but instead of moving to Tiburon, she married T. Ray in Sylvan. Lily can’t understand why Deborah would marry a man like T. Ray, but August explains that... (full context)
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August tells Lily that Deborah visited her in Tiburon shortly before her death. Deborah told August that she... (full context)
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Lily, overwhelmed by everything she’s learned, goes to bed. August kisses her forehead and tells her,... (full context)
Chapter 13
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Alone in her room, Lily cries into her pillow. She wonders, “where do I go from here?” She decides to... (full context)
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The next morning, Rosaleen wakes Lily up and asks her what happened downstairs—sheepishly, Lily admits she broke some honey jars. Rosaleen... (full context)
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...house bearing food for the second day of the Assumption celebration. At the Daughters’ potluck, Lily asks August to tell Zach about Deborah as soon as she can—August agrees. For the... (full context)
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...preservative—by covering the statue with it, the Daughters are symbolically preserving it for another year. Lily enjoys dipping her hands in honey—she feels like she’s wearing a pair of gloves that... (full context)
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Later, August comes to Lily’s room with the blue hat she’s promised Lily. She also gives Lily a box containing... (full context)
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The final item August gives Lily is a photograph of Lily—as a baby—with Deborah. Lily is awestruck by this image, because... (full context)
Chapter 14
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It’s August, and the days are hot. Lily finds it impossible to forgive her mother for abandoning her. She knows she’s being foolish,... (full context)
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June sets a date for her wedding: October 10. It occurs to Lily that she needs to leave Tiburon soon. She’s confessed to August that she’s a runaway,... (full context)
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Lily calls Zach. Zach tells her that August has told him about Lily’s past, and he... (full context)
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Rosaleen returns to the house, having registered to vote. As Rosaleen returns, Lily tells her, “I love you,” without knowing why she’s saying it. That night, as she... (full context)
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The next day, Lily goes to meet August by the beehives. August shows Lily a beehive that’s missing a... (full context)
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The next day, there’s a knock at the door. Lily is surprised to find that T. Ray is standing outside. Angrily, T. Ray says that... (full context)
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T. Ray asks where Rosaleen is, and Lily lies and says Rosaleen has already left the house. Then T. Ray notices the whale... (full context)
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T. Ray starts to drag Lily toward the door, calling her Deborah, much to Lily’s confusion. Instead of fighting back, Lily... (full context)
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T. Ray tells Lily that it’s time to go home, but Lily refuses to leave—she explains that she’s staying... (full context)
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...Ray walks to his truck, which is parked outside, and prepares to drive away. Suddenly, Lily comes running out of the house and cries, “Stop!” Lily asks T. Ray, point-blank, what... (full context)
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In the months to come, Lily continues to stay with the Boatwrights. She decorates her room with blue, and goes to... (full context)
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Lily spends much of her time writing down what’s happened to her. She thinks about the... (full context)