BOOK REVIEW: Bee Season by Myla Goldberg

Beeseason Unlike The Secret Life of Bees, Myla Goldberg's Bee Season actually is a book about bees, although not the buzzing black and yellow kind but the culturally-entrenched American tradition of spelling bees. Eliza Naumann is a mediocre pupil and unremarkable in every way until one day, aged eleven, she discovers a sudden talent for spelling. Her father Saul, a Jewish cantor and scholar of Kabbalah (the serious,  mystical orthodox version rather than Madonna-style Kabbalah lite) who's never paid her that much attention before is suddenly her biggest fan and mentor, and together they travel the country as Eliza's prodigious talent grows.

But back at home, Eliza's brother Aaron is feeling neglected and finds an unusual way to cope and Miriam, Eliza and Aaron's mother, is reverting to an unhealthy compulsion that she thought Saul's love had cured. Maybe Eliza's new-found talent isn't quite the blessing she once thought?

With elements of mysticism/magical realism plus explorations of faith, mental health issues and family dynamics, this is a book that simultaneously manages to be very deep and very readable. Myla Goldberg's style is witty yet understated and unpretentious and this is a book which handles several issues whilst never becoming depressing. It's poignant yet funny, sharply drawn but sympathetic and the characters are very believable. It's a great example of 'show don't tell' writing, in which characters' motivations and feelings are revealed through the smallest actions and the reader is credited with the intelligence to understand them. It's also interesting to get an insight into spelling bees, a curiously American phenomenon which most of us have heard of yet never participated in! [The film Spellbound is worth a watch for the same reason, incidentally].

Much more than a coming of age story or a book about spelling, Bee Season deserves the buzz (sorry!) that its publication recieved.

Rating: 5 out of 5

*DID YOU KNOW?* Bee Season was made into a film in 2005, starring Richard Gere, Juliette Binoche and Kate Bosworth.

Like this? Try We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver.

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