Bee Season by Myla Goldberg
Bee Season by Myla Goldberg is an incredibly touching, mesmerizing and haunting story of one Jewish family in Pennsylvania. The story begins with Eliza Naumann, a fifth grader designated to one of “slow-learners” classes, manages to lift her up the ranks by winning the class spelling bee, followed by the district spelling bee, before making her way into the final rounds of the national spelling bee. As Eliza’s new talent and success catches the attention of her father, her small family begins to erupt at the seams. Her brother, who once had high rabbinical aspirations begins to seek out new religions, feeling cast away from Judaism at the same time he feels cast away from his father. When Saul chooses to study with Eliza instead of keeping his guitar/study session with Aaron, there is a rift in the family that only gets bigger as Miriam, Eliza’s already quirky and somewhat OCD mother, progress further into a psychosis she had been building up since childhood.
The writing is an intense, slow and rhythmic character study of human nature and our role on this earth. There are a number of parallels between each member of the family, whether is it finding religion through unlikely means, or a way of handling problems or neglecting problems. Saul’s intent focus on Eliza’s success for the spelling bee puts his family in danger, or as the backcover of the book says “a tailspin”. The chapters alternate back and forth between Eliza, Aaron, Saul and Miriam. We learn how their actions directly and indirectly effect each other, how little they understand just how similar they all are. The most important element is the power of words in this books. Not only are words a tool for Eliza to pull herself out from a crowd, but words are a path that lead to a higher, divine experience. Eliza and Aaron on different paths, leading to the same locations with their chants; Eliza’s permutations of words, and Aaron’s chants with his japa beads with the Hare Krsna’s.
For some reason, I see this book as mandatory summer reading for high school. I think it should be. There are a number of themes, and motifs throughout this book that any confused teenager and cling to. Both adults and teens can really get into this book. When I first started reading it, I had Akeelah and the Bee stuck in my head, the movie about a girl from the slums going on to win the National Spelling Bee in Washington D.C. Although the similaries ended with the first half of the book.
falls into my 999 Challenge Category from Books from the Rory Gilmore Booklist.Bee Season by Myla Goldberg Anchor Books, 2000 ISBN 0385498802 274 pages