Sometimes you read a book, and you’re surprised by how much it mirrors your life in unexpected ways. In Lindsay Eagar’s Hour of the Bees, I felt an immediate kinship with twelve-year-old Carolina (pronounced “Caro-leeen-a”), who goes by Carol. Instead of spending the summer before junior high with her friends in Albuquerque, she’s stuck in the New Mexico desert, with her mom, dad, little brother Lu, and half-sister Alta . . . and Serge — no, wait — Grandpa Serge, who she’s meeting for the very first time.
Serge is suffering from dementia, and given that he’ll soon no longer be safe on his own, in the ranch that he built, on the land where he raises sheep, they’re selling his house and moving him to the city, to a fancy old folks home. It’s up to Carol and her family to sift through Serge’s stuff, all while keeping an eye on him, even though Serge is dead-set on never leaving. All of it would be weird enough — new “old people” to hang out with, new place — but on top if it, there’s the bees. The thing is, there shouldn’t be bees out in this desert. It hasn’t seen rain in a hundred years. But the bees are always buzzing around Carol. And then there’s the closet in Serge’s old bedroom, the one he never sleeps in. Behind the door is the droning of hundred of them. But only Carol hears it.
Eagar’s debut has that feeling of an instant classic. Beautiful (yet accessible for the age audience) language, an unforgettable and evocative setting, magical realism, a story within a story, and character struggles that any reader can relate to. Whether it’s Carol’s complicated relationship with her teenage sister, Alta, or her shifting allegiance to her grandfather, there’s just so much that rings true about this book. In particular, what rang true to me right now are all the pieces having to do with leaving a home behind. Though we didn’t have to move my grandparents out of their home, right now we’re going through with emptying and selling it–the house they built themselves and lived in for over fifty years. It’s steeped with memories, and though I was never privy to stories as magical and epic as those that Serge told to Carolina, there’s still that raw feeling in the back of my throat of being not ready to say goodbye. Not ready to see someone else inhabit that space, and yet knowing our days with it as ours are numbered.
I’ll admit, this was one of the books that I’ve been antsy to read for a while ever since I heard about it. I think this book will find a wonderful home with loads of readers — and be explored in many a classroom in the upcoming years.
Hour of the Bees (Candlewick Press) will be in a bookstore/library near you starting March 8, 2016.