Bee Season – Review

Bee Season by Myla Goldberg

Age: Adult

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.

This 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


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5 responses to “Bee Season – Review

  1. I saw the movie version of this (before I realized it was based on a book) and have meant to read the book every since. Thanks for your review!

  2. I read this book years ago and really enjoyed it. I agree with you that it’s a great book for teens and adults. Great review!

  3. I had a similar take on the themes, but with different reactions. I did not think this book was reader-friendly at all. It was very hard to relate to the characters, and I was so frustrated by the end of the book that it was a relief to read the ending. Her big decision at the very end (without revealing the ending) was a release, because I knew the book was over. Gah.

    Good to read a different perspective on it, though. 🙂

  4. Pingback: 2009 Recap « The Novel World

  5. Thanks for the review! I recently discovered that we don’t have it in our collection (I am a teen librarian) and was looking for reviews for age groups.

    I absolutely loved the book and found it relatable on so many levels. As a linguistic dabbler and second generation Hare Krsna, I found it particularly interesting and well researched.

    I found the plot particularly hopeful, to be honest. In a severaly messed up, materialistic society, it was nice to see the younger generation returning to more spiritual means of coping with life. That was nicely juxtaposed with the older generation “tailspinning” out of control while clinging to more materialistic and temporary solutions for their rather disappointing lives.

    In regards to the movie, (despite how fun it was to see some Hare Krsna friends making camio appearances), it was so terrible, I found it painful to get through.

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