We all know that there is magic in the world—and it is not the spells-and-wands kind of magic you find in most fantasy books. Real magic is created by love and conjured up by need. In Kimberly Newton Fusco’s enthralling Beholding Bee, there is an abundance of real magic. And it’s a good thing, because Bee needs all the help the world can give her.

Orphaned at the age of 4 by carnival folk parents, Bee is raised by a teenager, Pauline, who helps her run the hot dog stand. The carnival’s owner decided to keep Bee because he hopes to use her as a “freak show” attraction when she gets older.

In the 1940s when this story takes place, being born with a large diamond-shaped birthmark on your face can make you an object of fear, ridicule and fascination. Bee spends most of the early parts of this story trying to keep her hair pulled down over one side of her face. Only Pauline and a strange old lady in a floppy hat—a lady only Bee can see—give her comfort. When Pauline leaves to work at another carnival, Bee is on her own and more scared than ever. With a stray dog and a piglet as her companions, Bee finds the strength to run away to the nearest town, and, miraculously, finds the house where the old lady lives.

Here the magic truly begins as Bee makes a home for herself. She follows the guidance of the ghostly lady and another “aunt” as she learns to cook and shop and go to school. As all the pieces come apart and then come together again, Bee finds her voice and the strength of self to show the world who she really is. Fusco’s lyrical prose enhances the magic of the story as we are drawn into Bee’s unconventional world and her touching transformation.

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