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Bee Season
     

Bee Season

3.3 67
by Myla Goldberg
 

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Eliza Naumann, a seemingly unremarkable nine-year-old, expects never to fit into her gifted family: her autodidact father, Saul, absorbed in his study of Jewish mysticism; her brother, Aaron, the vessel of his father's spiritual ambitions; and her brilliant but distant lawyer-mom, Miriam. But when Eliza sweeps her school and district spelling bees in quick

Overview

Eliza Naumann, a seemingly unremarkable nine-year-old, expects never to fit into her gifted family: her autodidact father, Saul, absorbed in his study of Jewish mysticism; her brother, Aaron, the vessel of his father's spiritual ambitions; and her brilliant but distant lawyer-mom, Miriam. But when Eliza sweeps her school and district spelling bees in quick succession, Saul takes it as a sign that she is destined for greatness. In this altered reality, Saul inducts her into his hallowed study and lavishes upon her the attention previously reserved for Aaron, who in his displacement embarks upon a lone quest for spiritual fulfillment. When Miriam's secret life triggers a familial explosion, it is Eliza who must order the chaos.

Myla Goldberg's keen eye for detail brings Eliza's journey to three-dimensional life. As she rises from classroom obscurity to the blinding lights and outsized expectations of the National Bee, Eliza's small pains and large joys are finely wrought and deeply felt.

Not merely a coming-of-age story, Goldberg's first novel delicately examines the unraveling fabric of one family. The outcome of this tale is as startling and unconventional as her prose, which wields its metaphors sharply and rings with maturity. The work of a lyrical and gifted storyteller, Bee Season marks the arrival of an extraordinarily talented new writer.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Bee Season is a profound delight, an amazement, a beauty, and is, I hope, a book of the longest of seasons."
—Jane Hamilton, author of A Map of the World and The Book of Ruth

"Myla Goldberg's Bee Season is a bittersweet coming-of-age in which wise little Eliza Naumann's quirky passion for spelling bees unites and divides her family while revealing universal truths about the often crippling pain of love."
—Martha McPhee, author of Bright Angel Time

"There is such joy and pain thrumming inside Myla Goldberg's spelling bees! She delicately captures one family's spinning out by concentrating equally on the beauty and the despair. Bee Season is a heartbreaking first novel."
—Aimee Bender, author of The Girl in the Flammable Skirt

"In a story told with unique delicacy and brave inventiveness, a young girl, innocent and all-knowing, learns how much there is to lose, and what it takes to win."
—Elizabeth Strout, author of Amy and Isabelle

barnesandnoble.com
Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
Does adolescent insecurity, Jewish mysticism, the Hare Krishnas, and obsessive-compulsive disorder seem like a lot to pack into a first novel? Myla Goldberg tackles all that and more in a seamless, compelling narrative in Bee Season. Not bees as in honey, but bees as in S-P-E-L-L-I-N-G. The kind you either dreaded or loved as a child.

When 9-year-old Eliza Naumann finds out she has an unusual talent for spelling, she is utterly confounded. The long-time disappointment in her highly intelligent family, Eliza has grown accustomed to her role as under-performer. Her father Saul spends his evenings immersed in Jewish mystical studies; her mother Miriam, a successful lawyer and compulsive housekeeper, maintains a safe emotional distance from her family; and her brother Aaron usurps what little time Saul has to offer in the form of spiritual instruction in his father's hallowed study.

Initially very much alone in this quirky family, Eliza becomes the center of attention when she wins the regional spelling bee and goes on to face the nationals. Her father quickly jettisons Aaron's spiritual education in favor of training Eliza to win, and her mother spends more and more time at the office. Left to his own devices, Aaron is drawn into an eastern religious cult (the Hare Krishnas) and begins to lie about his whereabouts while Miriam's life begins to spin out of her careful control.

With impeccable imagery, Goldberg's extraordinary skill brings the trials of children's competition in the classroom, onstage, and within one's own family to brilliant, blinding light and details the unraveling of one family in just a few, untended months. (Spring 2000 Selection)

ISBN-13:
9780385498807
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
05/15/2001
Edition description:
Reissue
Pages:
288
Sales rank:
702,220
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.70(d)
Lexile:
1050L (what's this?)
Age Range:
14 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt

At precisely 11 a.m. every teacher in every classroom at McKinley Elementary School tells their students to stand. The enthusiasm of the collective chair scrape that follows rates somewhere between mandatory school assembly and head lice inspection. This is especially the case in Ms. Bergermeyer's fourth/fifth combination, which everybody knows is where the unimpressive fifth graders are put. Eliza Naumann certainly knows this. Since being designated three years ago as a student from whom great things should not be expected, she has grown inured to the sun-bleached posters of puppies and kittens hanging from ropes, and trying to climb ladders, and wearing hats that are too big for them above captions like "Hang in there," "If at first you don't succeed . . ." and "There's always time to grow." These baby animals, which have adorned the walls of every one of her classrooms from third grade onward, have watched over untold years of C students who never get picked for Student of the Week, sixth-place winners who never get a ribbon, and short, pigeon-toed girls who never get chased by boys at recess. As Eliza stands with the rest of her class, she has already prepared herself for the inevitable descent back into her chair. She has no reason to expect that the outcome of this, her first spelling bee, will differ from the outcome of any other school event seemingly designed to confirm, display, or amplify her mediocrity.

Ms. Bergermeyer's voice as she offers up spelling words matches the sodden texture of the classroom's cinder block walls. Eliza expects to be able to poke her finger into the walls, is surprised to find she cannot. She can certainly poke her way through and past her teacher's voice, finds this preferable to being dragged down by its waterlogged cadences, the voice of a middle-aged woman who has resigned herself to student rosters filled with America's future insurance salesmen, Amway dealers, and dissatisfied housewives.

Eliza only half listens as Bergermeyer works her way down the rows of seats. In smarter classrooms, chair backs are free from petrified Bubble Yum. Smooth desktops are unmarred by pencil tips, compass points, and scissors blades. Eliza suspects that the school's disfigured desks and chairs are shunted into classrooms like hers at the end of every quarter, seems to remember a smattering of pristine desks disappearing from her classrooms over spring and winter breaks to be replaced by their older, uglier cousins. Bergermeyer is ten chairs away. Melanie Turpin, who has a brother or sister in every grade in the primary wing, sits down after spelling TOMARROW, which even Eliza knows is spelled with an O. Eliza also knows that LISARD is supposed to have a Z and that PERSONEL needs a second N. And suddenly the bee gets more interesting. Because Eliza is spelling all the words right. So that when Ms. Bergermeyer gives Eliza RASPBERRY, she stands a little straighter, proudly including the P before moving on to the B-E-R-R-Y. By the time Bergermeyer has worked her way through the class to the end of the first round, Eliza is one of the few left standing.

Three years before Eliza's first brush with competitive spelling, she is a second-grader in Ms. Lodowski's class, a room that is baby animal poster-free. Eliza's school universe is still an unvariegated whole. The wheat has yet to be culled from the chaff and given nicer desks. There is only one curriculum, one kind of student, one handwriting worksheet occupying every desk in Eliza's class. Though some students finish faster than others, Eliza doesn't notice this, couldn't tell if asked where she falls within the worksheet completion continuum.

Eliza is having a hard time with cursive capital Q, which does not look Q-like at all. She is also distracted by the fact that people have been getting called out of the classroom all morning and that it doesn't seem to be for something bad. For one thing, the list is alphabetical. Jared Montgomery has just been called, which means that if Eliza's name is going to be called, it has got to be soon. The day has become an interminable Duck Duck Goose game in which she has only one chance to be picked. She senses it is very important that this happen, has felt this certainty in her stomach since Lodowski started on K. Eliza assures herself that as soon as she gets called out her stomach will stop churning, she will stop sweating, and cursive capital Q will start looking like a letter instead of like the number 2.

Ms. Lodowski knows that second grade is a very special time. Under her discerning eye, the small lumps of clay that are her students are pressed into the first mold of their young lives. A lapsed classics graduate student, Ms. Lodowski is thrilled that her teaching career has cast her in the role of the Fates. Though she couldn't have known it at the time, her abbreviated classical pursuits equipped her for her life's calling as overseer of McKinley Elementary's Talented and Gifted (TAG) placement program.

Ms. Lodowski's home, shared with a canary named Minerva, is filled with photo albums in which she has tracked her TAG students through high school honors and into college. In a few more years the first of her former charges will fulfill destinies shaped by her guiding hand.

Ms. Lodowski prides herself upon her powers of discernment. She considers class participation, homework, and test performance as well as general personality and behavior in separating superior students from merely satisfactory ones. The night before the big day she goes down her class roster with a red pencil. As she circles each name her voice whispers, "TAG, you're it," with childlike glee. Steven Sills spells WEIRD with the I before the E. Eliza spells it with the E before the I and is the last left standing. As she surveys the tops of the heads of her seated classmates she thinks, So this is what it's like to be tall.

She gets to miss fifth period math. Under Dr. Morris's watchful eye, she files into the school cafeteria with the winners from the other classes and takes her place in a plastic bucket seat. The seats are shaped in such a way as to promote loss of circulation after more than ten minutes. Two holes in each chair press circles into the flesh of each small backside, leaving marks long after the sitter has risen. Each chair has uneven legs, the row stretching across the stage like a hobbled centipede.

Through the windows on the left wall, buses arrive with p.m. kindergartners. In the kitchen, hundreds of lunch trays are being washed. From behind the closed kitchen comes the soothing sound of summer rain. Eliza feels a sudden pang of guilt for having left a lump of powdered mashed potato in the oval indentation of her tray instead of scraping it into the trash, worries that the water won't be strong enough to overcome her lunchtime inertia.

What People are Saying About This

Jane Hamilton
Bee Season is a profound delight, an amazement, a beauty, and is, I hope, a book of the longest of seasons.
Aimee Bender
There is such joy and pain thrumming inside Myla Goldberg's spelling bees! She delicately captures one family's spinning out by concentrating equally on the beauty and the despair. Bee Season is a heart-breaking first novel.

Meet the Author

Myla Goldberg lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband, Jason Little.

Brief Biography

Hometown:
Brooklyn, New York
Date of Birth:
November 19, 1971
Place of Birth:
Washington, D.C.
Education:
B.A., Oberlin College, 1993

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

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Bee Season 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 67 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The first sentence was all it took for me to fall in love with Myla Goldberg's debut novel. Her writing is so delicately made that it is an art form in itself. It is gorgeous, as is the story it tells, one of hope, and loss, and the love of a family that has quite frankly fallen apart and trying to stitch it all back together.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The diction in this book is advanced, but i enjoyed learning so many new words. The author has great skill in handling words and creating analogies and metaphors that remain lodged in one's mind long after one has put the book down. The ending was confusing for me... i'm not sure if i understand it, which bugs me very much because i enjoyed reading everything that led up to the ending so much. This book portrays the desperate need an adolescent has for meaning in life, for something to hold onto when one's parents aren't around to be that something solid to cling to. overall, i enjoyed reading it because i like the Author's way with words, and there were some interesting themes. However, im definately confused by the ending.
Guest More than 1 year ago
this book could not have been a bigger disappointment. I regret not reading the reader reviews prior to purchasing the book- I would have saved myself time and money. As the other reviewers have noted, the writer has an incredible ability with words, however, the story was unrealistic and painful to read (in that it was difficult to fully get into the story). Moreover, it seemed that there was little 'story' and more description. For example, it would take a page to describe one simple object (of course, I exaggerate, but you get the idea). I, literally, had to force myself to finish the book. If you are consisdering purchasing this book, please reconsider. There are more enjoyable books on the market!
laurasgrandpa More than 1 year ago
There are many books that delighted me, saddened me, angered me, or frightened me. But this is the first book that rattled me; that moved me so profoundly. I still don't fully understand my own reaction, but it's very real. Immediately after reading a borrowed copy of Bee Season, I bought four more copies to share with friends.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Are spelling bees for nerds that have no lofe and are forever alone
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What are you saying you sound like oprah
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The author's observations are at times clever and humorous, but for me, the story was tragically dark. The characters were so deeply troubled and flawed that I couldn't relate to them or their depressing circumstances. If this book were a color it would be dark gray. If you are looking for something that is up beat, entertaining or has redeeming features, this is not it.
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Awesomeness1 More than 1 year ago
This book was an odd little novel, one I was not expecting. This is about Eliza Naumann, a normal girl who family has resigned themselves to her ordinariness. This all changes when Eliza surprisingly wins her school spelling bee, opening doors to herself that she never even knew existed. Eliza's family is strongly impacted by this sudden change. Her father, Saul, is a Jewish scholar, and is determined that his daughter use her abilities to the best advantage possible, resorting to the old leather tomes in his study for guidance. Her brother, Aaron, is thrown off by this sudden change of his father's affection, exploring any way to be closer to God. Her mother, Miriam, is not what she appears, and this sudden change in the family dynamic brings her secrets to light. All this happens because of one girl's ability to spell. This book has a whole lot shoved in it. Jewish mysticism, Hare Krishnas, kleptomania, obsessive compulsion, complicated families, and spelling bees. It really is like nothing I've ever read before. It was more complex than I was expecting, and I read it slowly in order to soak it all in. The characters and all their actions wer well-developed and intricate. I just really enjoyed the journey it took me on. And, as an added bounes, my vocabulary has been hereby expanded. I can see how it's not for everyone, and I don't exactly recommend it. This is a book people have to stumble on for themselves. My only complaint was the ending, which I felt was a little unclear.
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While I found Bee Season engrossing and interesting I found it disturbing with an unsatisfactory ending. It is not enjoyable to read about a dysfunctional and disturbed family. I may have liked it better if there was some more positive resolution at the end.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago