I don’t know what honey tastes like. Gramps knows. He says ‘sweet like honey,’ sometimes. When the real bees flew from flower to flower, they did this job. One tiny bee could do the work of twenty kid bees every day.
(How To Bee by Bren McDibble.) Synopsis:
Imagine a world without bees. Children are employed to pollinate the fruit trees by hand. Peony wants to be a Bee. She wants to help provide for her grandfather and sister Mags.
Peony is taken from her home and forced to work as a domestic maid in the city. There she encounters people who have more than she does, including Esmerelda, a girl who is afraid of the outdoors.
Peony needs to get home to the countryside. Will her mother ever understand that a simple live in the country is better than a life of servitude?
Environmental crisis, poverty and a girl who longs for a simple life. How To Bee gave me the same tingles as Skellig. It is brilliantly crafted and will stick with me long after I have finished reading.
I was instantly drawn into Peony’s world. The children on the farm take on roles which were once integral to the natural world, pollinating the plants and removing pests from the crops. Peony’s mixed definitions – Bees are children who pollinate the plants, but they used to be living things – brings to life the generation brought up in a decimated world.
This is not a dystopia about overthrowing a regime. Like all good dystopias, it explores how we can make a positive change to our world, but there is no war. No corrupt-government. The novel manages to explore some huge themes – environmental crisis, social inequality and the impact of urbanisation – without the familiar story of rebellion. Instead, there is a girl who knows her own mind and a message of small-change-big-difference.
Peony is a great heroine. She’s hardworking and caring, but also smart-mouthed and feisty.
Esmerelda has a phobia of going outdoors and could be described as agoraphobic. I loved how this was handled. Peony bonds with Esmerelda before we learn about her phobia. I thought this was a great way of building empathy. We care about the character before her issues are raised, and as such, she is never treated as something other.
The other main story is about Peony’s mother, who wants to start a new family in the city. Peony’s relationship with her mother is a key part of the plot. Her mother’s decisions keep Peony from her own goals. Peony’s mother is vulnerable. There is never any sense of the story condemning her, and Peony’s emotions are explored with sensitivity.
Peony’s voice will stay with you long after the last chapter. This has the potential to be a future classic. Read it ASAP, preferably outdoors with the sound of bees in the background.
Big thanks to Liz Scott PR and Old Barn Books for my ARC. Opinions my own.