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9780062209849_custom-9884e4cd94ae10dc59112c135b909dd22016d5cc-s6-c10Reviewed by Jax Kepple

Marnie and Nelly have just buried their two deadbeat, drug addicted parents in the backyard of the Scottish housing projects. Now what? The Death of Bees begins with this interesting kick off, and takes us through the crazy life of these two sisters trying to fend off questions about their missing parents from friends, drug dealers and the authorities, and their elderly neighbor who has noticed that they’re all alone and craves some companionship.

Lisa O’Donnell keeps the pace moving with short chapters told from three points of view: Marnie, the brilliant 15-year-old who tries to keep it together while experiencing her first true love and taking care of her younger sister; Nelly, the violin prodigy who doesn’t communicate well with others and who bonds easily with father figures; and Lennie, the old neighbor who is lonely after his partner dies and loves to cook and entertain. The girls and Lennie form a family of sorts, with Lennie both making dinner and disciplining the girls, until out of nowhere, the girls’ maternal grandfather shows up and tries to make amends for years of neglect.

The crux of the book is: who do we count as family? The people who gave you life or the people who gave you a reason to live? You see how the pattern repeats itself with the girls’ selfish grandfather, who tries to force piety and obedience onto two girls who have been left alone to fend for themselves their entire lives and have their own way of coping.

I would have liked to see the story about the girls adjusting from the chaotic life with their parents to the stable life they built for themselves more fleshed out; at times the story seemed to skip over the details of how they fared with no money. Sex and relationships are also touched upon, with Nelly and Marnie both experiencing wanted and unwanted attention from the opposite sex, but no resolutions were made in that aspect, which was frustrating. Closure of those story lines would have helped me adjust to the ending, which also left a bit to be desired – you see the girls getting better and getting more acclimated to life and then pulled away. However, it is an excellent story about resilience and perseverance, and I enjoyed the unique setting. A quick, satisfying read.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Jax is in an accountant at a hedge fund. She resides in NYC with her husband.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Harper. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.