The Death of Bees
By Lisa O'Donnell
(Harper, Hardcover, 9780062209849, 320pp.)
Publication Date: January 2013
Other Editions of This Title: Paperback
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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.
Written with fierce sympathy and beautiful precision, told in alternating voices, The Death of Bees is an enchanting, grimly comic tale of three lost souls who, unable to answer for themselves, can answer only for one another.
Lisa O'Donnell won the Orange Screenwriting Prize in 2000 for The Wedding Gift and, in the same year, was nominated for the Dennis Potter New Screenwriters Award. A native of Scotland, she is now a full-time writer and lives in Los Angeles with her two children. The Death of Bees is her first novel.
"Today is my birthday. Today I am fifteen. Today I buried my parents in the backyard." So begins Lisa O'Donnell's novel about two sisters who find their parents dead and, instead of reporting it, decide to keep it a secret until they can make it on their own. More at NPR.org
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- What was your initial reaction reading these few paragraphs? What did it tell you about the person who wrote it? How does the prologue set the tone for the story that follows?
“O’Donnell’s finely drawn characters display the full palette of human flaws and potential. Told in the alternating voices of Marnie, Nelly, and Lennie, this beautifully written page-turner will have readers fretting about what will become of the girls.”
-Booklist (starred review)
“The sisters and Lennie narrate alternating chapters, moving the story along at a fast clip....The difference between the sisters in terms of personality and maturity puts them at odds despite their shared fear of discovery. But their resilience suggests hope for their blighted lives.”
-Publishers Weekly (boxed review)
“An unusual coming-of-age novel that features two sisters who survive years of abuse and neglect....The author’s experience as a screenwriter is most definitely apparent, as the reader always hears the voices and can visualize the dramatic, sometimes appallingly grim scenes. Recommended.”
“The Death of Bees is completely addictive. A beautiful and darkly funny story of two sisters building a fantasy within a nightmare.”
-Alison Espach, author of The Adults
“The Death of Bees is compelling stuff, engaging the emotions from the first page and quickly becoming almost impossible to put down.”
“As the action reaches a feverish climax…dark comedy is replaced by nerve-shredding tension…the reader is thoroughly caught up in the emotional trials and tribulations of two unlikely heroines….Warm without being cozy, explicit without being shocking, and emotive without being schmaltzy…a powerful coming-of-age tale…”
“This vibrantly-imagined novel, by turns hilarious and appalling, is hard to resist.”
-Daily Mail (London)
“Mixing The Ladykillers with Irvine Welsh’s The Acid House… O’Donnell adeptly balances caustic humour and compassion.”
“The Death of Bees steadily draws you into its characters’ emotional lives.”
“The most original and incredible piece of writing I’ve come across in years.”
-Helen Fitzgerald, author of Dead Lovely
“Warm without being cozy, explicit without being shocking, and emotive without being schmaltzy . . . a powerful coming-of-age tale.”