The Death of Bees by Lisa O’Donnell

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Like a Breaking Bad fix. 

Synopsis of Death of Bees by Lisa ODonnell:

Today I buried my parents in the backyard.
Neither of them were beloved.

Marnie and her little sister Nelly are on their own now. Only they know what happened to their parents, Izzy and Gene, and they aren’t telling. While life in Glasgow’s Hazlehurst housing estate isn’t grand, they do have each other. Besides, it’s only one year until Marnie will be considered an adult and can legally take care of them both.

As the new year comes and goes, Lennie, the old man next door, realizes that his young neighbors are alone and need his help. Or does he need theirs? But he’s not the only one who suspects something isn’t right. Soon, the sisters’ friends, their other neighbors, the authorities, and even Gene’s nosy drug dealer begin to ask questions. As one lie leads to another, dark secrets about the girls’ family surface, creating complications that threaten to tear them apart.

Written with fierce sympathy and beautiful precision, told in alternating voices, The Death of Bees is an enchanting, grimly comic tale of three lost souls who, unable to answer for themselves, can answer only for each other.

My two cents

Let's stumble into the tragic lives of three very disturbed characters:

Marnie, who at 15, has slept around some, does drugs, makes an extra money by delivering drugs, and is street-wise beyond her years;

Nelly, all of 12, talks like someone's grandmother, is an absurdly good violinist and seems just a little bit different; and

Lennie, their observant next door neighbour, who in his loneliness, turned to some sexual comfort from someone who turned out to be a minor, branding him forever as a sex offender.

Hearing directly from these rather tragic characters, let's piece together how Marnie and Nelly end up burying their parents. Be ready for a gruesome tale of their appalling childhood characterized by neglect, abuse, drug use and promiscuity. But also be prepared to have all that upended with a tale that will surprise you with the capacity of people for goodness and to be so much more than we see them to be.


I just couldn't ignore that opening... it propelled me to keep going and as I started reading, I realized that this was not likely some enchanting dark tale a la Coraline. This has a goth feel to it, but it is too real to be dismissed. 

The best analogy I can come up with is my fascination (ok, addiction), to the TV show Breaking Bad. I resisted watching this because I felt it would open up a morbid fascination to the illegal, the gruesome, and the graphic. I watched it with some horror and with plenty of hiding behind a pillow and hubby telling me what was happening onscreen. If you're a fan of Breaking Bad, you may understand my analogy to that show to loving this book.

This is probably one of the most disturbing books I've read in a long while ... but it's addictive. The grimness, the horrors, the gruesomeness, just how twisted this is. Yes, it's all horrible. But that's all context. I loved it because:

The characters spoke to me. They're people painted as oddities, different, non-mainstream, and "bad" by society's standards.

Two young children who despite their seeming immunity to the horrors they live with, are children at heart, looking for some understanding, craving some affection, any attention. Marnie's voice is chilling for someone so young. Nelly's voice, while child like, has a strange old-soul quality to it. They both break my heart.

Lennie, who, heaven forbid all children should steer clear of, reaches out to these children and their unlikely friendship becomes a source of joy for them all. He is in as much pain as the children. A cultured man who had once loved and fell prey to loneliness, finds reason for being in his simple act of caring for the children. He too breaks my heart.

It has a wonderful moral to it. Expect the good in people. Again, the context may distract and even turn off many readers. But this tale showcases how humanity has the capacity for such good. It comes into even starker focus because it is buried amidst so much of the bad.

While I can go on and on about the merits of this book, I'd rather keep this short and sweet. Despite disliking how much bad was in this book, this is among my memorable reads for the year with its unique voice, its tragic characters, and its uplifting moral.


If you're squeamish or dislike gruesome, violent and often graphic descriptions, or have problems reading about promiscuity, drug use, and child abuse, please tread lightly.

Someone mentioned that this was classified as young adult fiction. I would caution young adult readers as this deals with very adult themes. While the main characters of the story are teens, they have been subjected to horrors that many adults would have difficulty dealing with.

Lastly, there is a lot of local slang in this. If it's specific to Glasgow or Scotland, I am unsure, but I ended up having to look up a few words here and there as I was unfamiliar with them.

Verdict: Weird, disturbing, often appalling ... I loved it. If you're a Breaking Bad fan, you may find this macabre tale to your liking. I highly recommend this to those not scared to come out of their comfort zone.

About Lisa O’Donnell

Lisa O'DonnellLisa O’Donnell won the Orange Screenwriting Prize in 2000 for The Wedding Gift. A native of Scotland, she is now a full-time writer and lives in Los Angeles with her two children. The Death of Bees is her frst novel and was the winner of the Commonwealth Book Prize.

Visit Lisa at her website, connect with her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.

Don't forget to check out the rest of the tour!
I received a copy of this book from the publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.

Buy This Book from Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Harper Perennial (October 22, 2013)


  1. I was first attracted to the post because I liked the name and cover of the book. I thought it was going to be a dark comedy. If I see the book in store, I will definitely have a read through some of it to see whether I like it.

    1. I'm like you, the cover got me. It is a dark comedy ... I guess I didn't do a very good job of describing it -- it's very similar to Breaking Bad with some rather cringeworthy humour! Well I hope you check this out. Thanks so much for coming by Carlyn :)

  2. I'm not sure it's for me but I loved your review.

    1. Thanks Juju! I honestly didn't think I'd like it ... but it turned out to be such a great read!

  3. Oh wow, this sounds interesting! I am never sure if I will like books like this, with grittier stories, but they call to me for some reason. I am going to add it to my TBR list. Thanks for the review!

    1. :) Its so nice to try reading something out one's comfort zone :)

  4. Comparing it to Breaking Bad, huh? If I was the author, I would be OVER THE MOON. :) Thanks for being on the tour!

    1. Thanks for having me Trish! I know ... but Im still in the throes of Breaking Bad finishing ... and this one really got to me!

  5. I felt very similar to you. From the first I couldn't put it down, but it's so hard to describe this one. Despite the ages of the characters, it doesn't feel like a YA book to me.

    1. I hope it's not being marketed to just the YA crowd, I'm betting it will appeal to a much wider readership! Thank goodness it doesn't have a girly cover on it.

  6. my book club just won 9 copies of this one ~ i'm really looking forward to reading it especially after seeing your review ~ it sounds like the perfect book club book!

    1. That's awesome :) I look forward to hearing what you think about this one, mixed reactions on it so far, but definitely a lot to discuss in a book club.

  7. It was good, but I don't think it deserves all the hype it is getting.

    THANKS for sharing your thoughts.

    Stopping by from Carole's Books You Loved December/January Edition. I am in the list as #33.

    My book entry is below.

    Silver's Reviews
    My Book Entry

    If you get a chance, also stop by this fun post: What Would You Give Your Book Character For Christmas?


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