6) The Death of Bees

By: Lisa O’Donnell

Date Finished: 02.20.14

By Lisa O'Donnell

Their parents are dead, which doesn’t really change the quality of life for Marnie and Nelly.  It might even be a relief but for the secret they have to keep.  In a year, Marnie can take legal custody of her sister so long as they can hide the truth about their missing parents.  During their struggle, the girls find a refuge with their aging neighbor, Lennie.  Together, the three become a strange little family, more real and far more functional than the family their parents embodied.

This is the third of my Book Club reads and I have to say, it was a rough start.  At first, I thought I was going to hate it.  I thought I did hate it.  Without the impetus of Book Club, I probably would have abandoned ship around page twenty-four.  But I persevered, and after a while discovered I did care about the characters (the ones you were supposed to care about at least) and was even rooting for them.  And I owe it all to the magnificent writing.

This book has three first person narrators.  Marnie is a tough fifteen year old, street smart (book smart, too, but without making the effort), vulgar, and fiercely protective of her younger sister.  Nelly is socially impaired, probably autistic to a degree, a musical prodigy, and desperate for stability.  Lennie is a lonely old man haunted by his past and longing to care for someone.  Together, they tell the story in short, largely stream of consciousness chapters.

Since the three storytellers have such diverse perspectives, the reader will often get vastly different accounts of the same event.  It is fascinating from a literary perspective and remarkable writing on O’Donnell’s part.  The voices are distinct, passionate, and genuine.  I honestly don’t know how I would have pulled myself through the book if there was a single narrator.  Marnie is too crude, it would become exhausting.  Lennie is too regretful, it would become arduous.  After a while, it would be difficult to sympathize with either one of them.  Nelly could’ve maintained interest and sympathy with her special needs, but her limited perspective would omit vital portions of the story.  This book works because you come at it from three completely different angles.

If you’d like to give this book a try, please be aware that it has R-rated content.  Most of what I endorse falls in the PG, occasionally PG-13 category (because I happen to like YA books), so I don’t want you to be surprised by the grittiness.  If you do take the risk though, I think you’ll find it’s masterfully composed.

At the end of the day: Probably a one-time read.

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