bee season

Title :: Bee Season
Author :: Myla Goldberg
Completed :: Mar 22 2008
Challenges :: 888 Challenge
Rating :: 4/5

This was yet another book that for some reason or another I kept passing up but meaning to eventually get to it. That's why I made it part of the 888 Challenge so that I'd finally read it. I think the reason why I liked this novel so much is that the author works with quite a few themes that overlap in such a way that at times it can be difficult to distinguish them because she makes them work so well with one another.

When Eliza wins her class spelling bee and then goes on to win the school and then district spelling bee, her father is relieved that she has finally revealed academic talent. Before only her older brother excelled at school being in all the advanced classes whereas Eliza was not even asked to bother taking the advanced placement test. I think Goldberg makes an excellent attempt here to exhibit parental expectations and the effects they can have on their children. Also the importance of balancing attention between children. Now I'm not a parent but speaking as a 'child' who often became jealous of attentions given to another sibling I know from that perspective equal attention is VERY important. Before it was Eliza who was in a way disregarded because she had no talent where the father put all his efforts into his son. As soon as Eliza's talent appears the father brushes aside Aaron, forgetting their guitar sessions as he focuses solely on harnessing Eliza's talents for something bigger.

Where is the mother in all this? She has a strange relationship with her children, basically she's aloof and throughout the novel is unconnected from the rest of the characters. The one time she attempts to connect with Eliza in the hopes that her daughter in some way is like her, she gives Eliza a kaleidoscope but as Eliza is in 5th grade the toy is unimpressive and the mother is repulsed by this. I don't want to give too much away but let me just say that something very unique is going on with this character. Goldberg creates the perfect illusion and shows that a family can consist of individuals so different they don't even recognize how separate and alone they are. They don't even realize who they are and what's going on with each other except for what's visible on the surface.

This theme is stretched over into the character of Aaron, Eliza's older brother. In the beginning of the novel he starts out as a smart kid, gets along with his family, plays guitar with his dad, a believer in his Judaic upbringing but when Eliza takes center stage as it were, Aaron begins to question his faith. Aaron was always interested in being close to God and while flying across country when he was younger he believes he saw Him in the clouds (though really it was only the red blinking light on the tip of the plane wing). During his Bar Mitzvah Aaron again experiences God but afterwards nothing happens and he begins to get a bit frustrated. After searching through several religions including those of the East, he makes a friend who introduces him to Hare Krishna.

Everything comes to a climax when Aaron finally confesses to his father that he is no longer a Jew and has adopted the orange robes of Hare Krishna. The mother at the same time has been arrested while Eliza secretly sneaks her father's Kabbalistic books in an attempt to speed up her training, afraid to lose her father's approval. You see the spiral and everyone spinning out of control. Only Eliza can set things straight which she does so poignantly.

Goldberg's novel takes such a bizarre twist on everyday life and the quest for perfection through the mediums of a spelling bee, Judiac mysticism, Hare Krishna and a kaleidoscope. Outstanding work for a first novel!

Other Thoughts ::
: you're next - reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link!


posted by Ashleigh @ 11:29,


At 4 April 2008 at 18:03, Blogger Danielle said...

I thought it was very good as well when I read it. I was very surprised when I found out the mother's secret. A somewhat dysfunctional family, but they seemed very believable. She has another newer book, but I've not read it yet.

At 5 April 2008 at 23:29, Blogger Exuberant Lady said...

What a great review! Thank you. I read the book a couple of years ago and this brought it vividly back to mind. Yes, the family is a dysfunctional one for sure--but somehow does function in its own bizarre way and manages to be quite endearing. I didn't know there is a new book. Hooray!


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    ashleigh (ash'lė) n.
    1: egyptologist; currently living in the uk attempting to obtain a phd in egyptology, hoping in the end there will be a job.
    2: literary; reading to escape reality, to improve conversation, for inspiration.
    3: crafter; crocheting and needlework, creating heirlooms, keeping the world warm.
    4: dreamer; head in the clouds, full of fantasies, wishing to be someone else, somewhere else.
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