Marnie and her little sister bury their parents in their garden on Christmas Eve. They plan on going on as usual, telling people that they had gone away to Turkey and weren’t sure when they’d be back. They really don’t want Social Services to get involved because then they’d certainly be separated and Marnie only has a year to go until she’s legally able to care for them both. But the neighbor, Lennie, notices that the parents haven’t been around. He starts to take care of them… but Lennie’s dog just won’t quit digging around the garden. Then there are all the people who are suddenly interested in the Gene and Izzy’s whereabouts – it seems Gene had a great deal of money that he was supposed to give a drug dealer and he’s come to collect. Then there is a man from Izzy’s past that wants to take control of the situation, even if he doesn’t understand the truth of it all – and that makes the girls very uneasy.
I found this book on the list of Alex Award winners for this year, and the premise sounded intriguing. If you haven’t heard of the Alex Awards, they are given out every year by YALSA at the ALA midwinter conference, and highlights books written for an adult audience that also has”special appeal for young adults”.
This story is told in alternating point of views: Marnie’s, Nelly’s (Marnie’s sister) and Lennie’s. Marnie is an angry 15 year old, used to taking care of her sister and no stranger to swearing, sex or drugs. I often felt like her personality was more for show though, like it was a tough girl act that she hopes the reader will believe. I like unreliable narrators, so this viewpoint appealed to me. Nelly is completely different – she’s a precocious 11 or 12 year old who enjoys old movies, playing her violin, and speaking like the Queen of England. There are hints that something hasn’t really been diagnosed for her (autism perhaps) and that she’s prone to “fits”. Lennie is an older gay gentleman who made one mistake after his partner passes away that lands him on the list of Sexual Predators. Most of his perspective is told as if he is speaking or writing to his dead partner. But he has other secrets that he’s been hiding….
As intrigued as I was by this story, it took me far longer to read than I expected it to. I just couldn’t stay focused on it at all. I know that some people have loved this, and I like that it is a different kind of story in that its told from an unusual place and that it is full of irony, but I felt like I had to work at it to finish it. And the ending itself wasn’t quite what I expected. It had a bit more excitement than the rest of the book, but was really tied up too nicely for such ugly circumstances. I will be discussing this with my teen book group this fall and I’m really curious to see what they think about it.
The Death of Bees
by Lisa O’Donnell