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Death of Bees, The Hardcover – January 2, 2013
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*Starred Review* Marnie and Nelly have just buried their parents in the garden behind the Glasgow housing development where they live. Their father, Gene, was a drug addict attracted to young girls. Their mother, Izzy, was a boozer who paid little attention to the care and safety of her daughters. Gene died of dubious causes, and Izzy killed herself in grief. The girls are better off without their parents, and they know it. The challenge is to stay out of the way of the authorities for a year until Marnie turns 16 and will be legally able to take guardianship of her sister. Their nosy neighbor, Lennie, a homosexual whose partner has recently died, leaving him bereft and at loose ends, provides their only stability. But Lennie is curious about the whereabouts of their parents. As awful as he knows them to be, they can’t really have abandoned their daughters for an extended vacation in Turkey, can they? That’s what the girls tell him and anyone else who asks, until their secrets start to unravel. 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. --Vanessa Bush
“In this first novel she pulls off the unusual pairing of grisly and touching.” (New York Times)
“O’Donnell walks a fine line, describing appalling events without ever allowing the novel to lose its warm heart....The Death of Bees is that rare thing: a family-values black comedy.” (Christian Science Monitor)
“Wild, witty and as funny as it is unsettling. The Death of Bees is really about the strength of sisters, the sparkle of imagination and how even the most motley of half lives can somehow coalesce into a shining whole.” (Houston Chronicle)
“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))
“[A] chiller told in three voices which will intrigue readers to the last pages…O’Donnell has done a masterful job of sketching her characters…The end is largely unexpected and highly dramatic, but at the same time is the perfect ending to this chilling tale…[a] brilliant book.” (Examiner (Northern California))
“With characters and voices the remind me of other strong debut novels (like Fates Will Find Their Way and Vaclav and Lena), this book will appeal to readers who like a strong voice, dark humor, and compelling story lines told in a literary yet accessible way.” (Publishers Weekly)
“Lisa O’Donnell, an award-winning screenwriter, grabs the reader from the get-go...” (Fort Worth Star-Telegram)
“The author brilliantly paints the characters’ best traits through the eyes of the other characters, and their worst traits through their own voices.” (RT Book Reviews)
“O’Donnell’s wildly original debut examines the intricacies of betrayal and loyalty within one family and their effects on two vulnerable young girls…With a gritty but redemptive take on family and the price of secrets, O’Donnell’s debut will be well-received by fans of mainstream literature and Scottish noir mysteries alike.” (Shelf Awareness)
“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))
“In more ways than the first line, The Death of Bees reminds me of Donoghue’s Room. Maybe it’s because both authors originated from the United Kingdom. Maybe it’s because both stories carry a darkness brightened only by the innocence of the main characters. (Spencer Daily Reporter)
“The quirky characters and thrilling plotlines will leave readers anxious to find out what will become of the girls. This poignant, compelling, and hopeful tale teaches readers that a desperate situation can always be alleviated by reaching out to others.” (The Hub)
“This is a sweet, funny book filled with two sister’s unrelenting love for each other and their determination to stay together at all costs…it is a good read and if you are interested in being taken on a crazy ride, this is the book for you.” (Bibliophage)
“As a gothic novel and a psychological look at the effects of trauma, it had verve and nerve…O’Donnell knows how to keep a reader engaged, and her sympathy -- and hope -- for her characters tempers what could have been a sordid tale.” (Columbus Dispatch)
“Quirky characters with distinct voices enliven this sometimes grim and often funny coming-of-age story in the vein of Karen Russell’s best seller Swamplandia! O’Donnell’s debut is sure to be a winner.” (Library Journal)
“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.” (Kirkus Reviews)
“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.” (Herald (Scotland))
“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…” (Scotsman)
“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.” (Guardian)
“The Death of Bees steadily draws you into its characters’ emotional lives.” (Financial Times)
“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.” (Scotsman)
“We loved this novel and think you will, too…The Death of Bees gives us one of the most memorable protagonists in recent fiction.” (Ladies’ Home Journal, Book Club)
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Top Customer Reviews
The older girl, Marnie, hopes that she can maintain the fantasy that the parents are just out on one of their usual irresponsible larks until she turns sixteen and can legally make decisions for herself and her sister. In the meantime she works at sketchy jobs for strange people to keep the two of them fed, always in fear of the social work department. They both attend school and keep their secret to themselves, managing to fool even the gay sex offender who lives next door. He turns out to be a hero where one is seriously needed. The author has cleverly included a certain amount of grizzly and hilarious detail, and a villain who could turn out to be a savior as well as a savior who could turn out to be a villain. Although this sounds really gritty, and it is, it is also funny and strangely positive.
There is a lot to be learned about the parents of the two girls and how the daughters managed to become so self-sufficient. The younger girl, 12 year old Nellie, is a brilliant musician but really strange, and speaks in a stilted Victorian English, while the older girl is also brilliant but very savvy in a 21st century way. They don’t always get along, but they desperately care for and protect one another.
The story is told in the voices of each character, Marnie and Nellie, and the next door neighbor, Lennie. The sections are short and back each other up with details not shared with anyone but the reader. Although the story is engrossing and the characters are fascinating the moral imperatives of parenting, and our responsibilities to ourselves and others are underlying themes. Yes, it does take a village. Do read this unusual and disarming book.
Into this mix add the odd drug dealer or two, some friends with their own dysfunctional families and the appearance of the girls' grandfather, whose arrival is increasingly unwelcome and complicating.
This story ranges from heartbreaking to darkly comic (when Lennie's dog Bobby keeps digging up parts of the girls parents...) but it is always compelling reading. This is a book to read, to discuss, to remember.