Friday, January 4, 2013

The Death of Bees by Lisa O'Donnell


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The book's description from the publisher's website:

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, are on their own now. Only they know what happened to their parents, Izzy and Gene, and they aren't telling. While life in Glasgow's Maryhill housing estate isn't grand, the girls do have each other. Besides, it's only a year until Marnie will be considered an adult and can legally take care of them both.
As the New Year comes and goes, Lennie, the old man next door, realizes that his young neighbors are alone and need his help. Or does he need theirs? Lennie takes them in—feeds them, clothes them, protects them—and something like a family forms. But soon enough, the sisters' friends, their teachers, and the authorities start asking tougher questions. As one lie leads to another, dark secrets about the girls' family surface, creating complications that threaten to tear them apart.
The Death of Bees is one of the most original stories I have read in years. If it's not featured on all kinds of Best of... lists in 2013 (the book hits the stores in January, 2013), I will be shocked. True, there's not much happy or joyful, or even redeeming happening here but the tragedy of the girls is told in such a touching, albeit realistic way,  that it's quite impossible not to touch one's heart.

And boy, is this story realistic. Marnie and Nelly are two girls whose lives are as bad as could be and the world they live in, with grey, miserable surroundings, leaves not much room for hope that someday it will all get better. And still, despite it all, despite every calamity that's happened, the reader hopes for the girls, even if these two hurt and damaged spirits gave up. I suppose that's one of the biggest strength of Ms. O'Donnell's writing. Someway, somehow, in the midst of all the unhappiness and calamity, she managed to sow seeds of optimism and faith in her readers. I promise you, despair is not what you'll end up feeling when finished and you'll get quite a few chances even to smile and laugh. Never at the characters, but always with them.

One of the best sides to The Death of Bees is that the writing and the way the story is presented are so unbelievably engaging. I got kidnapped and thrown into the world of Marnie, Nelly and Lennie with the speed of light. needless to say, it took me not even two days to read The Death of Bees. And Marnie and Nelly also stole my heart. I rarely fall for characters, especially young adult or child characters with such force that my heart aches as if they were my own. It happened with these two girls and they still live in my mind and my heart, even though the novel's last page was turned almost two months ago.
FTC: I received an e-galley of The Death of Bees by Lisa O'Donnell from HarperCollins Publishers via Edelweiss.