The Death of Bees by Lisa O’Donnell

26 Mar

Last year whenever I was in the middle of a class, longing to read any fiction new or old, I would go to Powell’s website and dream of the day when I had a full time job–meaning extra money–and time to read whatever I wanted.

As it turns out, you don’t usually get MORE time to read when you get a full time job. However, you learn how to manage your time better and, slowly, I’ve been learning how to say no to the television and yes to the written word. I’ve read 18 books so far this year. And yes, this means I should be blogging more.

The second thing that happens when you finally get that rare bird called “full time” is you get a little bit more money. I say a little bit more because working as a public librarian doesn’t yield a high paycheck but it’s still more than a paraprofessional working 20 hours a week. So, in January, I finally joined Powell’s bookclub, Indiespensable. The first book I received was “The Death of Bees” by Lisa O’Donnell. I’ve been dragging my feet on this one because I’m in a book club and I wanted to read a few other books on my to read shelf first.

I’m sad I waited so long. “The Death of Bees” is beautiful in its ugly reality. I don’t know much about Glasgow and I don’t know much about being poor in Scotland, but, I can tell you this book destroyed any romance I had about either. It’s easy to forget that Europe has joined the 21st century with the rest of the world and is full of problems just like we have in America.

Aside from the locale, the story is perfect. Two sisters, different from each other of course, are growing up in a family, to quote Ani Difranco that is “built like an avalanche.” There is no nuclear family here, or, if it can be called a nuclear family, it is a nuclear family in the sense that it has exploded and is currently decaying.

Cue the problem: The sisters discover their parents have died. The sisters do not want to be separated by the Social Services so they bury their parents in the backyard and try to live life without them. This is problematic.

Along the way to what you know is going to happen at some point in the novel, the story become less about the abuse they have endured and more about how much they learned about what love and family is from each other. The sisters clearly have grown up with some sense of humanity and love and take care of each other with a loyalty and fervor that is enviable. They meet a family in the man next door who ultimately sacrifices everything he can to save their future and they discover that blood does not always make family.

The novel is full of stories of wayward people, people trying to figure things out amidst drug, alcohol, and physical abuse. People who are full of love and full of hate. “The Death of Bees” is about two sisters trying to define what family is to them and how they are going to grow and live together despite never having the childhood all children deserve–one with love and stability.

I highly recommend this book to literary fiction lovers and anyone interested in stories about growing up. Also great for those interested in a book about dysfunctional families or alcoholic parents or life in the slums.


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