Best of 2013: The Death of Bees, by Lisa O’Donnell

THE DEATH OF BEES, by Lisa O’Donnell. Harper: 320 pp.

This was one of the first books I read this year, and it made such an impact on me that when I started thinking about my favorite books of the year, I automatically included it in the list.

The Death of Bees, Lisa O’Donnell’s debut novel, tells the story of sisters Marnie and Nelly, who must take care of themselves and each other after their parents die. If anyone, namely the authorities, find out they are living on their own, they could be split up. In addition, Marnie is already fifteen years old. In a year she’ll be able to be her sister’s legal guardian anyway. And then there’s the matter of the circumstances surrounding the girls’ parents. Only the sisters know, and only they know that their bodies are buried in the back garden.

I love the beginning of this book, spoken in Marnie’s voice:

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.

O’Donnell’s writing style is captivating. In a way, it reminded me of Emma Donoghue’s Room. Both stories deal with troubling topics, but both are written in a way that is impossible not to follow. The Death of Bees is a book you get lost in without even trying.

I also love the relationship between the girls and their neighbor, Lonnie. He was the sort of neighbor the girls were warned against when their parents were still around. They didn’t know why, and the more they get to know him the more they realize he’s exactly what they need in their lives. Perhaps they’re exactly what he needs as well.

The Death of Bees explores an understanding of family in a way that isn’t done very often. I don’t know if it’s been done in exactly this way before, actually. It’s a compelling reminder that in moments where we’ve lost ourselves, perhaps the best thing we can do is find each other.


About katepadilla

I write for the Spencer Daily Reporter in Spencer, Iowa. I keep blogs lifebythebooks, Save Me, San Francisco, and Beauty and Beast Buy a House. I'm also hard at work writing a short story collection inspired by the music of Train.

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