The Death of Bees {Review & Giveaway}

Today is Christmas Eve. Today is my birthday. Today I am fifteen. Today I buried my parents in the backyard.

Neither of them were beloved.

The opening lines of The Death of Bees sent chills up my spine. Marnie and Nelly are two young teens. They live in poverty in the slums of Glasgow with parents who are abusive, neglectful, and often absent, but at least they are physically present often enough to pick up the rent check and spend it on alcohol and cigarettes. With their deaths, Marnie and Nelly are on their own. Desperate not to be separated in foster care, they bury their parents in the back yard and try to go on as normal, keeping their terrible secret. Marnie is 15 and smart, straight A’s without even studying, sleeping around and smoking and caring for her younger sister as best she can. Nelly is 12, nearly 13. She’s a talented violinist and speaks very formally, using old-fashioned words, yet she’s often vague and it’s clear she’s been damaged. In some ways, she seems much younger than Marnie.

Their next door neighbour, an elderly man now single after the death of his lover and unfortunately branded a sexual pervert after an encounter with a young man he thought was of legal age, notices the parents have disappeared and assumes they’ve abandoned their kids again. Gradually, he finds himself taking care of the two girls, feeding them and doing their laundry, trying to fatten up Marnie, whom he worries is anorexic, becoming the caring father they never had. In the meantime, his dog has a strong attraction for his neighbour’s yard, although the girls do their best to keep him out.

Chapters are short and are told in alternating voices–Marnie, Nelly, and Lennie. Each voice is very distinctive, and each manages to go somehow very deep into the human experience while at the same time moving along quickly. The Death of Bees is an unusual book. Dealing with people who are living in the depths, somehow it offers hope for redemption, and although much of the subject matter is depressing, the book itself is full of humorous touches. They meet unusual people along the way–the drug dealer who’s a former teacher and tutors Marnie in math and science, the grandfather who abandoned their mother when she needed him most but who now considers himself the most upright pillar in the whole society, who uses Christianity not as a faith but instead as a club to defend his own self-righteousness.

The Death of Bees is a story about family and friends, those you can trust and those who betray, those who use and abuse and those who care and love. Ultimately you will care deeply about the fate of Marnie, Nelly and Lennie. Each is well-drawn, accurate in their own story, and sympathetic. Author Lisa O’Donnell has a deft touch and an ear for voices, and a talent for avoiding cliche and sentimentality. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I highly recommend it.

And, therefore, I’m thrilled to announce one of you can win your own copy! Just enter your info in the rafflecopter below. And be sure to leave a comment to tell me of a great book you read in 2012 (because I need more book recommendations like I need a hole in the head!). I’m always on the look-out for great reads.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. says

    I am not sure, but I think I saw a documentary about this on Discovery Channel. Something about two teenagers that were abused by their parents and end up killing them. Seems to be related somehow. Do you think this book is based on a real story?

    • says

      No, because–SPOILER ALERT!!– the girls don’t kill their parents, they simply bury them. I don’t think it’s based on a real story, but I do think the characters are realistic.

  2. Susan P. says

    I read Fall of Giants and Winter of the World by Ken Follett. Both are long books but the author is such a great story teller that I didn’t mind and didn’t want them to be over.

  3. Sandra K321 says

    I am trying to catch up on some older books that I missed, so it’s not a new book but one of my favorites that I read this year was The Help.

  4. Carol Wong says

    I loved “Brain on Fire” by Susan Cahalan. It was hard to put down. I am telling all my friends to read it. It is a true story of Susan who was attacked by a mysterious disease and the persistence and hope of her family, friends and doctor that helped her through.

  5. Deborah says

    I read many great novels on my kindle last year, but the last book I read in 2012 was a paperback titled The Dalai Lama’s Cat.

  6. De_ja says

    Her fearful symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger.
    Wasn’t as good as Time travelers wife, the ending is confusing,
    but characters are well-shaped. I’ve read about 20 books, but this was the first I remembered so it must have been good :)

  7. Anita Yancey says

    One of the better ones I read was the last one I read in 2012, and that is Miss Hildreth Wore Brown by Olivia deBelle Bryd. It was just so funny. Thanks for having this giveaway.

  8. says

    One of the GREAT books I read in 2012 would have to be THE GIRL WHO FELL BENEATH FAIRYLAND AND LED THE REVELS THERE by Cathrynne Valiente. Awesome series if you ever get a chance to explore its wild and wordy ways. ^_^

    • says

      Also, great book I read this year that I highly recommend: “Wicked Bugs” by Amy Stewart. It totally changed the way I think about bed bugs. (Still gross, but more malevolent.)

  9. Heather! says

    I have heard about this book, and it sounds like an intriguing story. I read *The Crazy School* a few months ago, and it was pretty good!

    h4schaffer at gmail dot com

  10. says

    This book is at the top of my “want-to-read” list. Thanks for the chance to win a copy. :) I read a lot of great books in 2012. Here’s some of my favorites:
    World War Z, The Baker’s Daughter, The Prize Winner of Difiance, Ohio, etc.
    But I think my favorite of 2012 was Gone Girl (so many unexpected twists and turns). :) Again, thanks for the giveaway. It’s so cold here. Perfect time to curl up by the fire with a good new book. :)

  11. Michele says

    I liked “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” by Ned Vizzini. I’m not usually into YA, not at all really. But my teenage daughter asked me to read it. I thought it was a very accurate account of depression, or at least of some kinds of depression.

  12. Jean F. says

    Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell – I find myself mentioning it in conversation all the time. I would love to read The Death of Bees!

  13. Katie Mahnken says

    The Time Traveler’s Wife…soooooo much better than the movie! It has some really beautiful prose sections. Definitely one that I would re-read.

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