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The Bees: A Novel Hardcover – May 6, 2014

4.1 out of 5 stars 521 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Imagine a story similar to Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale but told from the perspective of an insect. That’s exactly the premise of Paull’s debut novel. Flora 717, a lowly sanitation bee, is born with unusual features and abilities that allow her to move fluidly between the strict hierarchies of her hive. Through this ability, she witnesses the brutality and beauty that the various castes of bees exhibit to keep the hive productive, all in service and loyalty to the queen. But when Flora discovers she is fertile and can produce an offspring, she must betray her instincts to worship the queen bee and follow an untrodden path that leads her away from her kin. Paull’s plot brings to mind films like the 1998 hit Antz, but her deft storytelling and her nod to scientific literature allow the story to avoid the cutesy trappings that sometimes characterize novels featuring nonhuman characters. A surprisingly compelling tale. --Heather Paulson


“Fascinating… engrossing… Paull’s clear fascination with her source material brings humanity and warmth to a depiction of the remarkable social world of bees, which is no small achievement.” (—Huffington Post)

“The Bees is an extraordinary feat of imagination, conjuring the life of a beehive in gripping, passionate and brilliant detail. With every page I turned, I found myself drawn deeper into Flora’s plight and her immersive, mesmerizing world.” (—Madeline Miller, bestselling author of The Song of Achilles—Madeline Miller, bestselling author of The Song of Achilles)

“This is a rich, strange book...convincing in its portrayal of the mind-set of a bee and a hive. I finished it feeling I knew...how bees think and live. This is what sets us humans apart—our imagination can...create a complete, believable world so different from our own.” (—Tracy Chevalier, New York Times bestselling author of Girl With a Pearl Earring)

“Told with rapturously attentive imagination...Few novels create such a singular reading experience.” (—The New York Times Book Review)

“Riveting… evocative and beautiful.” (—NPR)

“Richly imagined” (—Los Angeles Times)

“[A] gripping Cinderella/Arthurian tale with lush Keatsian adjectives.” (—Margaret Atwood, via Twitter)

“THE BEES is one wild ride. A sensual, visceral mini-epic about timeless rituals and modern environmental disaster. Paull’s heart pounding novel wrenches us into a new world.” (—Emma Donoghue, The New York Times bestselling author of Room)

“It quickly became clear that in its basic facts, the novel sticks closely to real-world apian biology and behavior. That is fascinating enough, but Paull deftly wields this information to create an even more elaborately layered culture of beeness…Beautiful.” (Washington Post)

“Brilliantly imagined…Paull’s use of human language to describe this tiny, intricate world is classic storytelling at its finest…The Bees boasts a refreshingly feminist spin on fairy tale-style plots….A wildly creative book that resonates deeply for quite a long time. (Austin Chronicle)

“It’s rare to come across a book as mind-blowingly imaginative as Laline Paull’s The Bees. It’s even more rare for such works to be successful, well-written, gripping stories...The Bees is an utterly memorable wonder of a novel.” (Kirkus)

“A marvelous work of fiction… The parallels to “1984” and Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” are numerous but this story is also its own.” (Florida Times-Union)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; First Edition edition (May 6, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062331159
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062331151
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (521 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #220,137 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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.
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