97 of 104 people found the following review helpful
on May 6, 2014
THE BEES by Laline Paull is undoubtedly the most unusual book I have read in at least a decade (or more). The story does for bees and religion, “group think” and society roles what Animal Farm did for barnyard animals and government.
THE BEES has transformed this reader. I have a deeper curiosity and respect for an animal that I once looked at with nothing more than revulsion and fear. I’m not saying I’ll be going out and making friends with my neighborhood bees anytime soon, but at least now I can understand their position. But I digress…
While I disagree with the comparisons to The Handmaid’s Tale and The Hunger Games that THE BEES has been receiving, I can see the reasoning behind these comparisons. Fans of The Hunger Games will recognize the oppression of “the people” and admire Flora 717′s determination. The overall “feel” of the novel (of a young bee’s “coming-of-age” and questioning the structure of her current society) will also be a major draw for YA readers. (With that in mind, this comparison may be a smart marketing decision, overall.) As for The Handmaid’s Tale, I suppose you could find some logic in this when you consider the hierarchical position of the bees in the hive and Flora 717′s struggles in the later half of the book. But when it comes to the overall tone, plus the direction of the story and the manner in which it is told, I cannot help but compare THE BEES to Animal Farm. This book is dark, y’all. This book has a statement to make. As I have already said, THE BEES does for religion what Animal Farm did for government. I see this book as high school or college reading material some day. Or at least, I hope it will be. This is a story whose topics will easily withstand the passage of time and are so important for future generations.
For a story that takes place almost entirely within a few square feet of space, there is so much to be said about the inhabitants of that space. Their world is so grand, full of societal rules, an all-encompassing “purpose” and almost (who am I kidding, this is more than “almost”) fanatical religion. The creative lengths the author took in tying the bee’s world into our own are astounding. I wish I could point out every way that she makes her characters sympathetic while making them so very “other” and obviously bees, but that would be a novel unto itself…
Flora 717 may be the smallest character I have ever read about, but she is also one of the most fully-realized characters I have ever met, too. From the moment she’s born she’s… different. For her kind, “different” means instant death, but by the grace of a higher level bee, she is saved. Little did she know that her life would play a major part in a ploy for power, that so many difficulties would befall her and that she alone could change the fate her world. She is born as one of the lowest of the low on the hierarchical totem pole, but by both shear luck and her own abilities, Flora 717 moves through various positions in her hive. As a result, the first half of the book is spent associating the reader to the hive and their way of life as Flora 717 is thrust from one role to another. Her position is obviously uncommon for bees, since they are born into and usually die performing the task they were born into. She obtains a wider view of her world and is what we humans would call “enlightened” by what she learns. I enjoyed the tour, and Flora 717 is a most enjoyable guide.
The story is rife with matters of chance and fate, faith and predisposed role expectations — I especially appreciate the questions THE BEES asks with regard to morality, religion and leadership. Just because Flora 717 is born “different”, does this automatically make her a sympathetic character? Does the knowledge she gains make her decision “good” or “right” when she tries to override the mindset that has been ingrained in her people since before time itself? Will her every action be met with agreement by the reader? Although Flora 717 is the “hero” of the story, she does make mistakes, she commits crimes against society, she makes highly questionable decisions. Her mistakes, as well as the impact they have on the hive, only adds to the depth of her character, her world and the story. Never does Flora 717 think of herself as “better” than others, never do her intentions become overly-preachy to the reader… I really appreciated this, though, sadly, the fear that this could happen sat in the corner of my mind as I read, and as Flora became more determined in her “purpose”.
Ultimately, I loved where both Flora 717 and her hive ended up at the conclusion of THE BEES. It was fitting… and that epilogue was superb! What a touchingly sly little twist!
- Inventive, original, unique… All of these words – and more – will be thrown around when you see or hear people describing THE BEES. The book is 100% deserving of these descriptions.
- There is plenty of action and suspense. Correction: There is plenty of terrifying action and suspense. Even with the highly descriptive manner in which the story is told, I doubt that readers will become bored…
- … With that being said. Maybe some readers will grow bored learning more than they ever thought they would ever learn about bees. What do I know, right?
Come on, guys, we are talking about bees here… Let’s face it. THE BEES will either make you shudder to think of such a small space crawling with thousands of insects – or it will open your eyes to a world you have never known. I will say it again: I have always despised bees. I have always been that girl who will run away screaming if one comes within 20 feet of her person. But my eyes have been opened. Maybe it’s the idea of bees using “brooms and dustpans” to clean up messes (seriously cute visual!), maybe it’s the motherly way they look over their larva in the nursery, maybe it’s the endless thought of dripping honey… but I’m not so afraid anymore, but rather… intrigued.
In contrast, I think I now despise and fear wasps 10 million times more than I had previously. Thank you, Laline, for that.
THE BEES is destined to become one of my tops reads in 2014.
41 of 46 people found the following review helpful
Flora 717 is a bee born into the lowest caste of a somewhat troubled hive. She is a sanitation worker and therefore shouldn't have the power of speech, yet somehow she does. She is regarded as a possibly dangerous anomaly, but is allowed to live by those in control of her hive. Soon she demonstrates that she is even more unusual than was originally thought, able to do things that nobody ever expected a lowly sanitation worker would be capable of doing. Her abilities make her valuable to her hive, but they also make her dangerous in the eyes of those who are in control and invested in everyone going along with the status quo.
I liked learning about how a beehive functions through this book. It contained a great deal of information that was really interesting, as I'd never thought much about how so many creatures could live productively in such a small space. I enjoyed seeing the things that needed to be done in order to ensure a healthy and functional home for a group of bees.
As I didn't have much background before reading this book, I found it frustrating that Flora 717 continuously came across problems that the author made clear could not possibly be solved.... only to find them solved easily. It is made clear that every bee has a place and to step out of line would be to die, but then Flora 717 defies authority when she leaves the presence of the drones, and when she decides to forage, and every time she decides to stop being a sanitation worker. The community is described as a rigid one in which every bee is required to be in her place at all times, yet Flora 717 is easily able to elude notice and capture on a regular basis. After awhile I stopped feeling a sense of danger and suspense on her behalf. A better overview of how a hive functions would have been helpful, instead of the episodic setup of Flora encountering an unsolvable issue and solving it over and over again.
28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on June 8, 2014
I do not know where to begin with this book. Taking place within a literal beehive, all societal issues seem to be addressed - placement within a society, governmental bodies, religion, environmental influences, outside evil forces. Told through the eyes of Flora 717, a large and ugly sanitation worker, the reader follows the story of her life and somewhere along the way, you forget that you are reading about bees and become engrossed with the undertakings of a fiefdom.
By reading the synopsis, this book could go either way. After all, it is about bees, but then again it is so much more. I did not care what true beekeepers would call fact and what the author invented; all I knew was that I was connected with Flora and what she had to do to "accept, obey and serve" her hive and the future of those that depended on her.
Talking through scents, vibration, and touch, the bees communicate the needs of the hive and it is up to the governing body to keep everyone in line. The Sages, the ruling party of the hive, are both enthralled and threatened by Flora. She does not fit the caste that she has been born into. When she proves that she is much more than a typical worker she is moved into other beneficial and demanding jobs. I am not going to say that this is the downfall of the ruling party, but what happens next is both a surprise to Flora and to the single-minded hive.
This book is anthropomorphism at its best. You, as the reader, begin to lose track of the fact that this book takes place within the structure of a beehive. That Flora 717 is a bee and not some dystopian character that Atwood had dreamed up. I was fascinated and fully committed from beginning to end and even thought the premise will not appeal to some, I highly suggest that you reserve you judgement and give the first couple of chapters a try and then make a decision for yourself.
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on May 9, 2014
Every now and then a book comes along that is so original and so inventive that it completely blows you away. This is that book. This is the story of Flora, a sanitation bee, in a bee hive. Flora 717 is unusual and has many talents not normally seen in a sanitation bee. In the book, the bees communicate among one another and Flora tells us her life story among the hive.
As you read the book, you can't help but fall in love with Flora. You wouldn't think there are many challenges in Flora's life, but there are many. I do not want to spoil the story so I will not say more. I will say, however, that if I could rate this book higher I would.
I loved the story. I loved Flora and Laline Paull is my new favorite author.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
I don't think I have the courage to bee, but I was riveted reading about Flora 717 and her kin and hive. I was flying along through this nicely when about a quarter of the way through I felt like a bee hitting a plate glass window though -- I thought I was reading one sort of fantasy, when the author rather abruptly dropped an anthropomorphic detail in that temporarily derailed me. I had to put the book down for a day. I am so very glad I picked it up again. Another instance of "the further in you go, the bigger it gets", as the plight, the politics, the love, devotion and pluck of these bees, and especially Flora, became so absorbing that I could do nothing else but finish this book! Had to use eye drops to moisten my eyes to keep reading -- right up to the end, when my own tears did all the moistening I needed. I was very regretful of a human decision at the books end, but would wish little else (excepting the odd inconsistency I mentioned earlier) to be different in this story. I have always had a great (if under informed) feeling for bees, and this book really inspired me to seek out further knowledge of them and their ways.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on June 19, 2014
Based on the comparison to The Hunger Games and The Handmaid's Tale, I was expecting this to be a dystopian science fiction novel. Instead, it was something a lot closer to Watership Down, only without the compelling characters. The Bees takes an insider's view of life in a honeybee hive by anthropomorphizing bees and providing them with the ability to speak (not just dance), think rationally, and communicate with other species.
There were some good action sequences in this book, and I enjoyed the descriptions of foraging trips. But I only started to get really interested in the story about 3/4 of the way in. Overall, the bees, including the main character Flora, weren't very multidimensional, there were too many loose ends in the story, and the ending was abrupt and fairly anticlimactic.
This wasn't a bad book; it just wasn't an amazing book either.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on May 12, 2014
If both Margaret Atwood and Emma Donoghue, awesome writers in their own right, give your book advance praise, I am going to pick it up and read it. And now I can tell you that Laline Paull’s debut is one weird and awe-inspiring literary event. Written from the point of view of a bee (yes, a humble little worker bee in a hive), the novel takes you into a secret matriarchal world of a natural system under siege. It is a story of sisterhood and protest, finding your place in the world, understanding power and how to attain it, all at the hands of bees. Paull is a brave and truly creative writer, and she makes the world of THE BEES one that we strive to understand fully.
The timeless world of the beehive is the world of Flora 717, a sanitation worker bee who is born into this lowly state and embraces it, given her bulk and her ugliness. In her world, looking like the hag equivalent of a bee would render one a permanent disappearance, referred to as “the Kindness.” However, Flora makes friends with a ruling class priestess, a relationship that saves her. The priestess thinks that Flora has special abilities, so she is put to work in the nursery where she can oversee and care for thousands of the Queen Bee’s offspring.
At the same time, the hive is in crisis mode. The bees can’t find enough nectar and are slowly starving themselves. This hunger threatens their very existence, and when Flora shows her bravery by helping the hive fight off a wasp attack, she ends up in the company of the Queen. The friendship that strikes up between the humble servant and the almighty ruler allows Flora to see a perspective on the hive she has never had the privilege or ability to see before --- and gets her labeled as the Queen’s favorite. When Flora attracts the attention of one drone named Lord Linden, she makes a fateful decision that forever changes her position in the hive and its very future.
“Accept, Obey and Serve” are the rules of the hive, and Flora, with her new associations and alignments, takes on greater challenges and starts to fall prey to a sense that these rules no longer apply to her. But THE BEES doesn’t let her spend too much time enjoying her newfound freedoms. Instead, she must make choices that will save her own life or the life of the society her newfangled ideas and bold moves have brought to the brink of non-existence.
I do not mean to demean the character of Flora in any way, but how Paull manages to make this bee come alive to the reader is a feat of remarkable literary agility and imagination. Like a tiny Norma Rae with wings, she sees the hierarchy in all its faultiness and vows to do something. But those choices benefit her more than they do the good of the whole hive. Survival of the Fittest? Maybe. Survival of the Smartest? Absolutely.
Simliar to books like WATERSHIP DOWN by Richard Adams, small creatures are put in place of humans in stories that examine social structures and their ability to withstand the pressures and pains of growing up, moving forward into the future with a new mindset, letting old ways that no longer seem applicable to the world just pass away. The novel gives us an active and engaging central figure through whom we can discover this flight of freedom while being shocked and compelled to read more when we realize what Paull is really getting at. Science and myth come together in an uneasy but thrilling coupling, and we are the better for it.
THE BEES is a marvel, a story worth telling with ramifications you’ll be considering over and over again. Paull’s vision is a scary but exciting one for readers who love their fiction dangerous and just this side of too close for comfort.
Reviewed by Jana Siciliano.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on July 21, 2014
Being a beekeeper hurt my appreciation of this novel. Kind of a kitchy story but so far a field to what really happens in a bee hive that my knowledge overshadowed the nice little story. I can appreciate the authors' attempts to emphasize the importance of scent in a hive [which is everything] but I found that part of the story redundant. Yes, bees are ruled by the scent of the Queen, flowers, the pollen, honey etc but every page had references to the hive scent....?
The story of a "non-standard" female was interesting and her struggle against the hive system was epic. Her stamina due to her unusual size was pretty hard to swallow. Most times I am totally against misinformation relative to bees and I had to gulp down a lot of that in this story. Good story line but I wish she had used Carpenter Bees as her subject!
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on November 9, 2015
I try to not spoil books by reading too many reviews. After reading The Bees, I checked out some of the reviews on Amazon and I’m glad I waited until after I was finished with the book. Unlike a lot of reviewers, I did not make the comparison between this book and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale so readily. (Bee tee dubs, if you haven’t read THT, you really should.) The Bees certainly has some of the same elements, namely a fanatically religious society, but the stories didn’t seem to parallel much beyond that.
For one thing, the main character is a bee.
Hopefully that’s not too much of a spoiler. As you can imagine, as the majority of characters are bees with a sprinkling of wasps, spiders, birds, and even a mouse, this novel is not quite your typical book-club fiction.
Paull’s anthropomorphization of the insects and birds is reminiscent more of Animal Farm than any Disney movie. The bee’s rigid hierarchal structure reminded me of the Indian caste system and their religious fanaticism echoes that of… well, just about any religion with fanatics.
Our heroine, Flora 717, is born as a sanitation worker, but somehow manages to work her way around various castes, including nursery caregiver and forager. Paull emphasizes multiple times the strict organization of the society of bees, but allows her main character to break these barriers with very weak explanations for why this is permitted.
Regardless, readers are thrown into the world of bees; I certainly feel more knowledgeable about bees in general after reading this book and it is evident Paull did a lot of research writing this.
Unfortunately the outcome of this book was pretty apparent, but that made it no less of an interesting read. Following Flora 717 around the intricacies of the hive and outside in the natural world inhabited by humans was fascinating. It makes you wonder about the complex and thriving ecosystems surrounding you every day.
P.S. Bonus points if you get the reference in my title.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on May 25, 2014
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. I work in insect house at my city's zoo, and I'm familiar with honey bees and their habits. This book hit a home run for me. Anthropomorphism notwithstanding, the honey bee culture exhibited in the story was dead on plus the character development was delightful. I wish there was a sequel.