Bee Season by Myla Goldberg is the story of a Jewish family in Pennsylvania. We are introduced to fifth grader Eliza Naumann, the “ordinary” member of a gifted family. She surprises them all by winning the class spelling bee, followed by the district spelling bee and then makes her way into the final rounds of the national spelling bee.
Eliza’s new skill distracts her father Saul from the guitar and study sessions he used to have with her older brother Aaron who has aspirations to become a rabbi because he chooses to study for the spelling bee with Eliza instead. Feeling disillusioned with Judaism, Aaron experiments with several religions before deciding to join the Hare Krishna group, as he feels abandoned by his father. Meanwhile her mother Miriam progresses further into a psychosis that has been building up in her since a certain concept was explained to her by Saul and it is discovered that she is a kleptomaniac. It seems that Eliza’s new found talent is contributing to breaking her family apart at the seams.
Although Eliza is rapt at the extra attention she was receiving, she feels bad about the deepening distance between herself and her brother and widening chasm between him and her father who once used to be quite close. Different characters choose unorthodox ways to resolve their issues or neglect handling them and it causes problems later on. There are parallels between each family member but each decides to deal with it in their own way instead of confiding in each other. Eliza witnesses these changes observing how the actions of one family member indirectly affect all the others. Each fails to notice how similar they all happen to be but this is obvious to the reader.
In the end, Eliza is forced to make a big decision, which will either keep her father’s attention on her or give up her new talent. The terrifying experience she is subject to one night while perusing some mystical books in her father’s study makes her realise the right course to take. Given I expected this book to be about bees that produced honey rather than the spelling kind, it captured my attention when the story started out mild and kept getting darker in its mood. Nevertheless it is an incredible read!