The pace of the story is too fast in the beginning, and gets bogged down in the middle. The story is very simply written. There is some lovely imagery, but in other places the language is too simple. I can see that the writer may have tried to keep it simple, since the main character is a teenage girl. However, the narrator is the girl looking back, so she's probably an adult and it need not have been so simple.
Lily is such a lonely child, with no friends, no mother, and a distant and cruel father. She has latched on to the memory of her mother, and her emotions are embattled. She is guilty because she thinks she killed her mother. She longs for her mother's love, because she feels so unloved and unloveable.
I believe her father's version of her mother's death. The gun accidentally discharged. I don't think that he took the gun off her and killed her mother. Although, I think he was relieved that she died. My opinion of Lily's father, T-Ray, changed at the end of the book, after we get a glimpse of the emotion he's holding back. He's so angry at Lily's mother for not loving him, for leaving him. He's turned bitter and angry at the world because of it. To begin with, he just seemed mean. By the end, you know that he wasn't always that way. I don't think he was abusive towards Lily's mother, I think Lily's mother developed depression and T-Ray was oblivious, or didn't know what to do. Men like to be able to fix things - maybe he felt like a failure because he couldn't make Lily's mother happy.
The book is also about race. I don't know much about the southern states of the USA and their racial issues, except what I've seen in movies and read in books. I don't understand the hatred and the segregation. I find it shocking. I like that Lily is so accepting of the Negros, although she also has her beliefs challenged because she didn't think they could be intelligent. I like that the Negros are equally as accepting of Lily, although they didn't have to be, and potentially could have been hurt by having Lily stay in their house. I love that Lily falls in love with Zach, who is black. She finally saw, through him, that their differences were only skin deep. They had even had a lot of the same experiences, because Lily had been bullied and persecuted by her peers.
The sisters have a beautiful relationship, and I think these characters make the novel. August is my favourite of the sisters. She is the person holding that family together. She is so calm. She is smart. She is obviously captivating, particularly with their unique religion, but she is still realistic about Black Madonna. She doesn't think that the statue is the be-all-and-end-all, but that Madonna is everywhere. The spirituality is lovely, and August combined her passion for honey and bees into her spirituality. She lives it everyday.