Wednesday, May 26, 2010

BEE SEASON by Myla Goldberg

This story focuses entirely on a Jewish family of four that have managed to distance themselves from one another. Daughter Eliza, a fifth-grader and unexceptional student, has miraculously won the school spelling bee. In normal families, a jubilant child would report this success to proud parents immediately, and congratulations would ensue. However, Eliza reports the event by slipping an envelope under her stay-at-home dad's study door. The note gets buried under Saul's assorted paperwork, and Eliza has to frantically engage her 16-year-old brother Aaron to drive her to the district bee. Mom Miriam is an attorney with a secret life as a kleptomaniac, stealing items that she feels are a part of her. Aaron develops a secret life of his own, joining the Hare Kirshnas, as his father becomes totally absorbed in coaching Eliza to spelling nirvana via mystic Kabbalah techniques. In fact, even Eliza eventually gets in on the action of sneaking around in the name of finding spiritual truth. I kept turning the pages to find out when and how Saul's house of cards was going to tumble. When will Mom be arrested? How will the family react when she does? When will Aaron have to own up to the fact that he is no longer the perfect Jewish son? How will Eliza fare in the next bee? The ending was a bit puzzling, but my take on it is that the family wants to return to normal. In this family, however, what passed for normalcy was actually oblivion, and revelation of the truth is something that you can't undo. Nor can someone who has a rare gift return to mediocrity.

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