Wednesday, August 07, 2013

The Death of Bees by Lisa O'Donnell

In the opening scene of The Death of Bees by Lisa O’Donnell, sisters Marnie and Nelly have just buried their parents in the backyard. A multitude of people, including a truancy officer, their neighbor (a registered sex offender), and a local drug dealer take an interest in their parents’ whereabouts. 15 year old Marnie and her little sister must learn to survive in the drug and crime-ridden projects of Scotland without alerting anyone to their predicament as to avoid being separated. As a new parent, I generally stray from books with plots about children in peril, but the darkly humorous and matter-of-fact narration in this novel kept me from turning the book back in unfinished. I stayed up far too late one night because I was so worried about what would happen to these two girls.

The book is narrated in turns by Marnie, Nelly, and their neighbor Lennie. O’Donnell excels at giving each character a unique and believable voice, and you end up sympathizing with characters who you expect to hate in the beginning. As the story unfolds, the reader slowly discovers who the girls can trust and why their parents are dead. The novel is simultaneously a mystery and a coming-of-age story that explores the meaning of love and family.

If you enjoy dark humor, suspenseful plots, and strong characterization, search the VBPL catalog for The Death of Bees. O’Donnell’s unique voice and ear for dialogue make this a page turner you will think about long after completion. You might also like Jeffrey Eugenides’s dark coming-of-age novel, The Virgin Suicides.

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