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)