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Cannonball Read #2: Bee Season

11/09/2009

Eliza Naumann is in Ms. Bergermeyer’s class, the one where the unimpressive fifth graders are put, but after the school spelling bee, she is the only one left standing. Eliza is a remarkable girl, and Bee Season is a remarkable novel.

Bee Season begins with Eliza’s quest to win the national spelling bee, but it moves beyond the bee to questions of religion, marriage, parenting, love, and family.

All of the Naumanns are searching for God. Her father, Saul, is the cantor at their synagogue and sees in Eliza and her powers of concentration a throwback to the rabbis of ancient times. He helps Eliza study but really is grooming her for the Kabbalah. He believes that her powers of concentration show her to be one who can speak to God.

Eliza’s brother, Aaron, has been usurped as favorite child, and finally seeks comfort in the Hare Krishna faith. With his father’s radar trained on Eliza, Aaron finds it easy to sneak around and immerse himself in this new world.

But it is Miriam, Eliza’s mother, who is seeking God in the most unconventional way: Miriam is a kleptomaniac. “Miriam … is a broken vessel, pieces of her scattered everywhere. She has been finding these pieces, in their many forms, and bringing them together so she can feel whole again.” Unfortunately, these items often reside in other people’s homes, so Miriam eventually starts breaking and entering to retrieve the pieces of herself.

I highly recommend Bee Season. Myra Goldberg is an incredibly talented writer, and has crafted every sentence about this disintegrating family with thoughtfulness, care, and wit.

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