Summary and book reviews of Bee Season by Myla Goldberg

Bee Season

by Myla Goldberg

Bee Season
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  • First Published:
    May 2000, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2001, 275 pages

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Book Summary

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.

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.

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 ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
The discussion topics, questions, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group's reading of Myla Goldberg's Bee Season, a beautifully crafted portrait of an American family torn asunder when eleven-year-old Eliza defies everyone's expectations by blossoming into a championship speller.


Summary

Like most families, the Naumanns have settled comfortably into a routine, each member playing an accepted role in the day-to-day family drama. Saul, a cantor who devotes himself to the study of Jewish mysticism, is the family anchor, preparing the meals, running the household, and nurturing ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

Newsweek

It is amazing how quickly a true talent can announce itself. In the case of Myla Goldberg, it is now even a matter of pages, but of sentences...a marvelous debut novel.

New York Times Book Review - Dwight Garner

A dispassionate, fervidly intelligent book that comes by its emotion honestly . . . has something else going for it, something you didn't realize you'd been missing in recent fiction: a bit of actual suspense ..... Bee Season flickers past like a dream, and it is artful indeed.

The New York Times - Christopher Lehmann-Haupt

As mundane and unmystical as these longings of Eliza's may be, you never stop caring about whether she will fulfill them....sensitive and witty.

Tattered Cover - Cathy Langer

The protagonist of this first novel is a heretofore-unremarkable nine-year old girl who is revealed to be a spelling prodigy. This novel is beautifully written and draws the reader into the world of this young girl, the compelling world of Jewish mysticism, Spelling Bee politics, family dynamics, and deep secrets. Absolutely amazing!

Time Out New York

Goldberg, who is only 27, has something rare in first-time novelists, and for that matter, in more experienced writers: an appreciation of the subtlest dynamics of human relationships and experience. And as a stylist has the equivalent of a musician's perfect pitch. This is a fantastic first novel, that I wanted to read again as soon as I'd finished it.

Library Journal - Kimberly G Allen

.....The result is not always compelling, however; too much time is devoted to Eliza's study of words.

Publishers Weekly

While coming-of-age stories all bear a certain similarity, Goldberg strikes new ground here, and displays a fresh, distinctive and totally winning voice.

School Library Journal - Molly Connally

Teens will identify with these young people as they seek out their own identities while risking the loss of parental approval.

Kirkus Reviews

Goldberg is a gifted writer, but her style--delivered in a detached, almost clinical prose that gives the feeling of fable or dream--holds the reader at a distance and keeps her characters from ever quite coming into the third dimension.

Booklist - Bill Ott

There is something of Holden Caulfield in Eliza, the same crazed determination to save her loved ones from themselves. An impressive debut from a remarkably talented writer.

Reader Reviews

Kat

Mindblowing
This book just blew my mind. It's that simple.

Carolyn Peterson

My Opinion about
We listened to the tape (12 hours) on a road trip for the past 2 days, and thoroughly enjoyed. It really took the boredom out of the trip, and kept us awake. Development of the characters and attention to detail were very good. The author's use ...   Read More

Melissa

Spell L I N G E R I N G
While I really enjoyed this book, I felt the sadness and longing of the all the characters - it really tore at my heartstrings. While it wasn't an action packed thriller, I couldn't put it down and the characters stayed with me long after I finished...   Read More

Kim

Good writing, annoying characters
I picked this book up used, on a whim, as I’d seen it listed as a well-reviewed book in a number of places. It’s one of the few times I’ve been disappointed when relying on book reviews to choose a novel. Granted, the book is relatively well ...   Read More

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