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.

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