“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.”
When you read the opening line of Lisa O’Donnell’s debut novel THE DEATH OF BEES (Harper/HarperCollins Publishers; $25.99; Hardcover; on-sale January 2, 2013), you know you are in for something different. You quickly learn that the parents buried in the backyard are Izzy and Gene, parents of Marnie and Nelly – two neglectful, selfish, generally heinous adults now moldering beneath loosely planted stalks of lavender. But you do not know how they got there. Not yet. The girls intend to keep the deaths a secret. They know that once word gets out, Social Services will be knocking on their door, ready to separate Marnie from Nelly. The girls both realize that Nelly, won’t survive, or will just barely, without Marnie looking out for her.
And so they go about their business. Since their parents regularly took off, no one bats an eye now. Except for their next-door neighbor, Lennie, an old man with a sad past, who believes they have been abandoned. So Lennie takes them in – feeds them, clothes them, protects them – and something like a family begins to form. But, as months pass, people start asking tougher questions: their friends, the authorities, and a long-absent grandfather, newly sober, who claims the girls are his for the taking. The girls realize it’s only a matter of time before the game is up. And when Lennie’s dog unearths a hand from the back garden, the whole truth must come out, and that means big, unwanted changes.
THE DEATH OF BEES is a novel of voices, ones that will utterly win you over. The narrative is composed of the first-person accounts of Marnie, Nelly, and Lennie. Marnie is a brilliant, young cynic, who, despite her promise, has been swallowed up by a world of drinking, teen sex, and general irresponsibility. Nelly is the charmingly odd duck of the narrative. She is a twelve-year-old violin prodigy, proper to the point of being off-putting, who speaks like the Queen of England. And Lennie provides a sober and wise adult perspective to the proceedings, but we also sense the depths of his life’s sadness and its regret. Together these voices tell the story of each other, of what young people are capable of on their own, of what young people continue to absolutely need from adults in spite of their seeming independence. And, although the girls’ circumstances are grim from the beginning, there is much comic relief throughout, provided by delightfully sharp dialogue and a motley cast of secondary characters.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Harper won a highly contested auction for Lisa O’Donnell’s debut novel THE DEATH OF BEES against Penguin’s Amy Einhorn Books at near-even bids. Lisa O’Donnell won the Orange Screenwriting Prize in 2000 for The Wedding Gift, and in the same year was nominated for the Dennis Potter New Screenwriters Award. Originally from Scotland, she moved to Los Angeles in 2006 where she lives with her family and is now a full time novelist. For more on Lisa O’Donnell, visit: http://authorlisaodonnell.com/; On Facebook, http://www.facebook.com/DOB1972 and Twitter: https://twitter.com/lisaodonnell72
Question for Author:
Q.: Where did the idea for The Death of Bees comes from? Does any of the story come from your own experiences?
Answer from Author:
Living on the East Side of L.A I see the same level of poverty I experienced as a child during 80’s Thatcherism. I was in my car recently when I saw this little girl maybe about seven walking in front of her mother and pushing a stroller. The mother was also pushing a stroller and holding the hand of a small toddler, but it was the young girl that caught my attention. I thought to myself “ She’s a wee mother” which later translated in THE DEATH OF BEES as “Wee Maw” when referring to Marnie raising Nelly.
Later, my sister sent me a docudrama about families in Scotland living with drugs and poverty, and again, the maturity of the children immersed in such a heartbreaking situation struck a chord. One child in particular was talking to the journalist about a father who might not return with the groceries for the week and go on a “bender” instead. She worried about Welfare Services getting involved in her life again. I wondered what the girl who waited for her father to return home with the groceries would do if she had had the money to go for the groceries herself, I wondered what she would do if it was in her power to get the electric bill paid, and what lengths she would go to in order to survive parents who had essentially vanished from her life. The thought then occurred to me that these children would be better off raising themselves. That’s when I came up with the idea of THE DEATH OF BEES and had two children bury their parents in the yard making them disappear forever, leaving the girls to their own devices.
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