Tuesday, August 6, 2013

REVIEW: The Death of Bees by Lisa O'Donnell

The Death of Bees
by Lisa O'Donnell

"Today is Christmas Eve. Today is my birthday. Today I am fifteen. Today I buried my parents in the backyard.  Neither of them were beloved."

Marnie and her little sister Nelly bury their parents in the backyard on Christmas Eve. They were rotten parents, anyway. Marnie has grown up too fast, talking tough, wearing fishnets and short skirts and lipstick, selling drugs for a guy named Mick who she occasionally sleeps with, at the young age of 15. Nelly is younger and speaks like a grandmother with her "good gracious" and her "local constabulary." She sounds like a Jane Austen novel, and she is obsessed with Harry Potter. She might be a little off, but Marnie ferociously protects her. Lennie is the older next door neighbor who starts to notice that they are alone. He has a troubled past that will not let him be, and he invites the girls over to his home to care for them as much as they will let him. Then one day, the girls' grandfather comes looking for them. He ran out on their mother but he says he's changed. He is asking questions about their parents' whereabouts. Is he trustworthy? Will he find out his daughter is buried in the backyard? How did they really die? If all is revealed, will things get better for the girls, or a whole lot worse?

This book was the first book I read after the YA class, and it was fantastic! I loved the narration in three separate voices: Marnie as the slang-slinging tough girl, Nelly as the posh but vulnerable waif, and Lennie, speaking to his dead partner, as the emotional (not literal) grandfather of the girls. You would hear of the same event from all three different points of view and get drastically different information. It is amazing to hear their voices develop throughout the book: one becomes more natural, one becomes more assertive, one slowly looses their grip.

This book is about family. About how the family you get can be horribly broken, and how you survive and make a new one. And it's not just about the girls. It is about the whole community of poor living in Maryhill, Scotland. How they make the best or the worst of it. There is a beautiful passage about immigrants:

"It is dangerous and not because of the refugees they've housed there but because of the wee radges who don't like the refugees there. Glaswegians are very territorial, even in a shit hole like Sighthill. It never occurs to them the accents around them belong to doctors and nurses, teachers and lawyers, educated people forced out of nice homes in beautiful lands only to be stored in tower blocks in the northeast of Glasgow. I mean seriously. Imagine losing everything you are and everyone you know, to have survived rape, starvation, and homelessness, to have escaped death at the hands of genocidal maniacs only to end up in a moldy housing estate. Now we have immigrants with university degrees and doctorates prostituting themselves, selling drugs and doing whatever they must to survive the hell we call asylum..."

 Oh and the book is really darkly funny (and a bit gross in parts, so don't read it while you are eating). I highly recommend it! It is a fast read!

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