The Death of Bees, Lisa O'Donnell, HarperCollins, 2013, 310 pp
It would be interesting to count up the number of novels written about children raised, neglected, abused, and/or deserted by bad parents. Reading such stories always make me either wish people had to get a license to reproduce or fills me with wonder at the resilience of the children who survive such upbringings. The Death of Bees delivered both sides of that emotional divide.
Marnie and Nelly live in a Glasgow housing estate, sort of like what are called the projects in the United States. Their parents are, or I should say were, drug addicts who have turned up dead one morning. Marnie at 15 is the elder sister and does her best to take care of 12 year old Nelly, who is somewhat challenged, perhaps a victim of fetal alcohol syndrome. The goal is to keep the deaths a secret and to stay away from welfare and foster care.
In alternating chapters we get the story from these two barely reliable narrators. It is grim but there are moments of levity and the obligatory element of hope.
This was a reading group pick. As usual, most of the ladies reacted in various tones of shock and horror. It makes me wonder under what rocks they live. Praise should go to Lisa O'Donnell for making the tale palatable to them. Isn't it about time to realize that there are vast levels of difference amongst the 99%?
Anyway, I liked reading the book due to the honest portrayals of all the characters including the gay neighbor who rescues them, the suspicious grandfather, etc. The happy ending was a little too pat but if it had all ended in grief and disaster I am sure Lisa O'Donnell would not have been able to sell her novel.
Such stories leave me wondering if there is nothing to be done about our world except to practice random acts of kindness.
(The Death of Bees is available in paperback on the shelves at Once Upon A Time Bookstore. It is also available in hardcover and eBook by order.)