Bee Season – Myla Goldberg (And Her Tights)

I think Myla Goldberg is one of the cutest authors I’ve ever set eyes on.  Her tights are right out of Sweeney Todd Halloween dress-up on the back cover of Bee Season, and so, when I saw it on the dollar shelf (how unfortunate) of Edward McKay’s I had to scoop it up.

Plus, the cover has that human skin feel to it, which I really think is sexy on a book (if you think I’m totally creepy please pick up this book and feel it in bookstores or pick up a copy of the Raleigh Review and give it a handle).

Another wonderful thing about Myla Goldberg is her name.  It rolls of the tongue with it’s ‘lalalalalala’ nature.  Last good thing (I’m sure there are more, but just the ones I want to share) is that she has a totally rad website which can be found here.  Okay last thing, I promise…she also did a Q&A with Powell books (which includes a question about a fictional character she’d most like to date) and that can be found here.  She’s hilarious, in probably a disturbing way because after reading Bee Season I couldn’t help but try and decipher who this woman was, who wrote this book.  I was fascinated by the kaleidoscopic of stolen property, and the wrecked-by-religion family.  Not to mention, a dad who is basically living inside of a study that should have been placed on another planet where everyone transcends their body and does yoga.  (I threw the yoga part in just for good mental images and for brain exercise/meditation).

After reading a few goodreads.com reviews that weren’t very flattering, I felt, as usual, that I need to throw my two cents in.  Now, I’m not the kind of reader that really likes best sellers.  I don’t pride myself on this, but usually if it makes the NY Times list, or if people around the world are raving about it, I can’t seem to get into it.  ESPECIALLY, if Oprah liked it.  (See:  The Help, Hector and the Search for Happiness, Harry Potter – post book four…hmmm all H titles).  So, I usually read strange books that everyone else has no interest in.  (See: How to Kill a Rockstar, Everything is Illuminated, Eating Animals, God-Shaped Hole).  Thus, Myla Goldberg is right up my alley.

I’d like to also take a moment to mention that she is a  Barnes & Noble Discover New Writers Award Winner, and I have never once gone wrong reading one of these hot off the shelf.  There was one that was a little so-so, but it was still a helluva read.  So, I definitely recommend seeking out your nearest B&N, getting a membership to save an extra ten percent and buying one of these books on a thirty percent price reduction.  They’re always good.  (See: The Adults – Alison Espach).

  Anyway, Bee Season is about a young girl,      Elly, who is average and not “academically    gifted” until she wins her school spelling bee,      and then continues to spell atrociously hard    words until she makes it to even higher  bee’s,  succeeding majority of the way.  I hope  that  wasn’t a spoiler…I tried to keep it light.  Anyway, her family is both very involved and  then dramatically uninvolved in her bee  winning.  Her mother is a total space cadet  because she is focusing on her life’s mission of  reaching what she calls “perfectimundo” and  her brother is dabbling in new religions that  may or may not turn into cult activity.  Her  father however, is obnoxious in his pursuit to  not only train Eliza (Elly) to win the National  Bee, but he is in hot pursuit of her reaching a  religious transcendence written about in ancient books (very focused on Kabbalah, ya know..that religion Madonna is really into, even though she isn’t Jewish).  While these characters sound blatantly ridiculous, and at points unbelievable, they also have stock character qualities.  The brother who never fits in, in any circle, even that of his own family.  A father who is living vicariously through his children.  And of course, the absent mother, who cleans well into the night because she is either nocturnal, or an insomniac.  I’d go with the latter if I were you.

A lot of people have reviewed this book saying it is utterly disturbing, and damaging.  However, I thought it was brilliant.  I read it in two days, got sucked into the religious aspect that somehow blends every family member together, and then sucked up into the voracious studying for the bee.  I’m not a stud of a speller, nor am I a great grammarian so it was definitely interesting.  Plus, I just recently watched the National Spelling Bee on ESPN (of all the channels they could put this on…really?) and that made me even more interested in this odd and forlorn family.

I don’t really even understand how people are so disturbed by this book.  We all have crazy family members (usually aunts or uncles that are wackadoodle) and we all have somehow dysfunctional families.  I know that no one out there has had a lifetime of just pure bliss.  Even though in one of my education classes a girl told me that the first time her mother ever raised her voice with her was her senior in high school, which sounds like an awfully boring house to me.  So, maybe there are some “good” families out there.  I think my family is dysfunctional, we have a lot of conversations about using the toilet (hence the blog title) but we are good to one another.  While this family isn’t a “Model American Family” straight out of a 1950’s Time Magazine, it was still really interesting to see a darkness that can envelope a semi-happy family.  It’s like watching Snapped on Investigation Discovery, or something.

I definitely plan on reading Myla Goldberg’s other ventures in writing and reviewing them as well.  I just wanted to let people know that they shouldn’t always look at how a book scored on goodreads.com or any other website, or under any other review before trying it out themselves.  Don’t judge a book by its dysfunctional family dynamics is all I’m sayin’.

Here are a few other reviews that you may find different &/or helpful to help make a decision if this book is worth your penny (plus shipping & handling) on Amazon.com:

Review #1

Review #2

Review #3

Review #4

Review # 5 (my personal favorite)

Also, there is a movie based on this book.  It stars Richard Gere. even though I felt the father was a much older man.  It didn’t get the best reviews, but if you’re not a reader, there are other options.

And just for the record:

Bee Season was a New York Times Notable Book for 2000, winner of the Borders New Voices Prize, and a finalist for the Hemingway Foundation/PEN award, the NYPL Young Lions award, and the Barnes & Noble Discover award.

I guess sometimes I do like best-ish-sellers.   Or, then again, maybe it just won awards…

Also (again) I think the people who write reviews only of “happy books” do not realize that every book must have a dark side.  While every cloud has a silver lining, it also has a lining of ugly mold from all the perspiration and condensation it holds in its clouded armpits.  I remember back in ’09 when I was taking a fiction workshop with Jill McCorkle at NCSU, and a girl in my class got really upset when she couldn’t write something happy, where everyone in the story was enjoying their life.  McCorkle ended up giving a whole discussion on how even our favorite characters must have unlovable qualities and our least favorite characters must have loving qualities (even the rotten Disney villains).   Personally, happy stories bore me to death.  Bring on the “depressionland” as this reviewer said on goodreads.com.

Hope you like this book as much as I do, or you just trust me enough to try it out.

14 thoughts on “Bee Season – Myla Goldberg (And Her Tights)

  1. rhapsodyinbooks says:

    Thanks so much for linking to me, especially to a blog with a name like yours, my personal favorite of any blog name anywhere!!! After reading this one, I did pick up another book by Goldberg but I never conjured up the energy to move beyond the first few pages. I should give it another go though, because this one, at any rate, really was a special book!

    • Cassie says:

      I think “The False Friend” is her only other novel and I’m tempted to buy it. Maybe we’ll see if I can get through it and encourage you to finish it, haha. I have a whole pile right now so I don’t know though! Thanks for your nice comments though – and anytime. :)

  2. Elisabeth Kinsey says:

    I was disappointed. Not because it got dark, but because it just seemed like she was sitting in a cafe going, “How do I end this thing?” I thought she was grasping. I still finished it and I thought it was well written.

    • Cassie says:

      Thanks for sharing. I did think the ending kind of sucked. Only because it’d exactly what you expect to happen with Eliza. The brother and mother ended interesting I thought though. I could definitely see where you thought it was forced though.

  3. Jennifer O. says:

    Hey Cass…I actually haven’t read this because I read the title and thought it was a cutesy coming of age story. I guess I was wrong!

    I read Goldberg’s False Friend a year or so back and it really stayed with me. I am interested in fiction that analyzes relationships between girls, bullying, peer pressure, and the after effects of these social monsters. The novel was quite good and its multi-layered approach really stayed with me. I think you’d enjoy it.

    Thanks for the review!

    • Cassie says:

      Oh you should! It was really interesting. I’m definitely going to read False Friend if you recommend it. I’m trying to think if I’ve read any books recently about girl peer pressure and other things. I know Laurie Halse Anderson writes on that subject frequently, but I’m sure you’ve read Speak and Catalysis.
      Hm….I read this book a few years back called Breaking her Fall but I’m not sure it really dived deeply into those topics. Ou! A good one is Summer Sisters by Judy Blume. It’s one of my absolute favorites.

      I’ll try to see if I have any more in boxes (my bookshelf is being no help at all right now).

  4. Kara says:

    I’m so excited to have this endless supply of good books to read. Since I will never get to them all before law school, I will be set for NEXT summer, too! <3 Miss you pretty girl

  5. Jennifer Lane says:

    Interesting review! I found your blog on goodreads Creative Reviews. My book club read this long ago and I found it enjoyable and strange. I didn’t really get into the transcendental stuff and I liked the beginning more than the end. Happy reading!

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