Full disclosure: I received a free copy of The Death of Bees from Harper in exchange for an honest review.
So often these days, families are labeled as “dysfunctional” if the dad drinks or the mom has a fling with the soccer coach. “Flawed” characters might be afraid of commitment, or have slept with one too many people, or occasionally skip class to go shopping with their friends. If you’re sick and tired of this false version of reality, you’ll probably like this book. But if you’re squeamish and/or you don’t like the idea of underage sex, drug abuse, dead parents, prostitution, and homosexuality, this is proabably NOT a book for you.
Let’s get one thing straight. The Death of Bees is dark. It’s creepy. The characters are flawed. Marnie is fifteen. She sells drugs, sleeps with a married man, and is fiercely independent. Nelly is sweet and innocent, but talks like an elderly woman, despite the fact that she’s twelve. Lennie is a gentle old man who made a bad decision years ago and is still paying the price.
On the first page of the book, we learn that both the parents are dead. The girls are burying Gene, their dad, in the backyard. They’re trying to hide Izzy, their mom, so nobody will find out she’s dead. Marnie and Nelly are trying to keep their parents death hidden just long enough… just until Marnie turns sixteen and can become Nelly’s legal guardian. Their parents were abusive and often left the girls alone for long periods of time, so the girls figure that people won’t ask too many questions. Lennie takes them in, feeds them, gives them a safe place to stay, and everything is ok… until out of nowhere, their mysterious grandfather (previously unknown to the girls) shows up asking too many questions and attempting to take custody.
The Death of Bees is an engaging, well-written story about the strength of family (blood relatives and otherwise) and the resilience of these young girls in the face of everything going wrong in their lives.
Final rating: ★★★★☆