*This book was sent to me by the publisher Harper in exchange for an honest review.
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.
Thus starts The Death of Bees, a book I started reading with a very perplexed, very one-eyebrow-raised expression on my face. Marnie is fifteen. Her younger sister Nelly is twelve and a bit…off. Their parents are dead, and within the first ten pages, there are graphic depictions of the burial described above. And when I say graphic, I mean it was lucky I was doing some bathtub reading, as I very nearly gagged when the sisters move their father, his fingernail comes off, and Nelly calls him a “beastly, beastly man.” But something compelled me to push down the bile and keep reading.
That something would be Nelly and Marnie. Marnie is hardened to the ugliness around her – parents who are rarely around and leave the girls to fend for themselves. Nelly, on the other hand, is tough but seems so fragile, bound up in a different sort of world, seeing her reality but trying to change it at the same time. When Lennie, their elderly neighbor, reaches out to them, I was relieved but nervous, as Lennie has baggage of his own. This trio is an odd one to narrate a story. However, in the projects of Glasgow, this group is no worse than their neighbors, and as the three tell their story, you realize they are very much the cream of the crop, building a makeshift family without requiring all that much from one another.
Marnie wants to be young and carefree, but she also loves her sister and wants to protect her. Nelly is exasperated by Marnie and those around her who don’t understand who she is. Lennie is gay and once propositioned a young man, not realizing his age, but he, too, has lost someone – the difference is, his loss was of a beloved one. What holds them together is the simple fact that no one cares about them. Lennie is actively reviled in a community of prostitutes and drug dealers. Nelly and Marnie have been in foster care before and have no desire to go back, and no one is exactly banging down the door to check on them.
As each sees the wounds in the other, the process of healing begins, and they band together in an unexpected but fierce love, until the world around them attempts to point out the wrongness of their situation. A book of juxtaposition and unexpected nobility, The Death of Bees will and should shock you, but it should also make you question who exactly should be reviled and how we can live in a world where children would rather bury their own parents in the dark of night than face the alternative.
Add this to your Goodreads shelf.