No matter how you and your family choose to celebrate the holidays, chances are it doesn’t involve burying your parents in the backyard on Christmas Eve. Alas, the same cannot be said for the sibling protagonists in Lisa O’Donnell’s first novel, The Death of Bees.
Setting the tone for what is to come, the book opens with 15-year-old Marnie telling readers that not only is it Christmas Eve, but it is also her birthday, and the parents that she and her sister have just buried in their backyard were anything but beloved.
O'Donnell is a brazen new voice in the literary world.
Rest assured, this is no saccharine, gentle story of a loving family torn asunder. As far as Marnie is concerned, her parents’ deaths are just one more mess they have left for her to clean up, just one more burden far too heavy for her and 12-year-old Nelly to have to carry. Yet carry it they must, leaving readers to root for these two newly minted orphans as they attempt to outwit child protective services, settle debts with their father’s drug dealer—who is owed money they don’t have—and keep their lonely next-door neighbor from discovering the truth about what his dog keeps trying to dig up in their back garden. Through it all, the girls navigate the more traditional hardships of adolescence with pluck and determination, proving that though they may be damaged, they can never be fully broken as long as they have each other.
From its first line to its last, The Death of Bees is unapologetically candid and heralds a brazen new voice in the literary world. O’Donnell, a Scot who now lives in L.A., is also an award-winning screenwriter. Her prior career experience shows in her novel: She imbues Marnie and Nelly with voices that are honest and authentic, and the narrative flows with the exact right current to hook readers early and then slowly reel them in.
This is a dark and mordant novel, yet despite its fighting words, a tender heart beats deep at its center. Although undeniably bleak at times, Marnie and Nelly’s story is not devoid of hope and has much needed punches of humor throughout. The result is a riveting and rewarding read.Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.
Marnie and Nellie have a problem: they buried their parents in the back garden after finding them dead. Ages 15 and 12, they are desperate to avoid being placed in foster care before Marnie turns 16, when she can live on her own under British law. Lennie, their next-door neighbor in the Glasgow, Scotland, housing estate, has noticed the girls are on their own. Old, lonely, and a great cook, Lennie takes them in and has his own reasons for not wanting to report them to the authorities. The three get along quite well until the girls' grandfather shows up. There are other complications as well, such as the issue of the money the girls' drug-dealing father has hidden, and Lennie's dog, who loves to dig in his neighbors' yard. VERDICT 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! 'Donnell's debut is sure to be a winner with adults and young adults alike.--Nancy H. Fontaine, Norwich P.L., VT[Page 64]. (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
When 15-year-old Marnie Doyle finds her father's body on the sofa of their seedy Glasgow home and her mother hanging in the garden shed, she and her younger sister, Nelly, decide to bury them both in the back garden, in British screenwriter O'Donnell's debut novel. Fearing that social services will put them into foster care, the girls undertake a desperate charade; they claim that Gene and Isabel are off on a trip. Notorious druggies and neglectful parents, at first their purported abandonment seems plausible. That's what Lennie, the lonely gay man next door, believes; though an indecency arrest in the neighborhood park has branded him a "pervert," the girls accept his invitation to come under his wing, with food, shelter, and companionship. But his kindness can't erase the damage that's already been done: Nelly, a violin prodigy who was molested by her father, has nightmares and screaming fits. Though she gets straight As in school, Marnie starts selling drugs, drinking vodka daily, and having sex with a married man. The situation grows even darker when their sinister maternal grandfather, Robert MacDonald, insists on taking them in, which Lennie doesn't like. But his battle with Gramps becomes complicated when Lennie is diagnosed with--but doesn't disclose--a fatal illness. The sisters and Lennie narrate alternating chapters, moving the story along at a fast clip, but the author's decision to give precocious Nelly a prissy vocabulary and a stilted, poetic delivery ("A white syringe. The coarsest cotton. It's abominable") makes her a less believable character, especially as Marnie's voice is rife with expletives and vulgar slang. 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. Agent: Alex Christofi, Corville and Walsh, U.K. (Feb.)[Page ]. Copyright 2012 PWxyz LLC