Beka Lamb is the debut novel of Belizean author Zee Edgell. It is the story of both Beka and Belize, an adolescent girl and an adolescent country. Set in Belize in the 1950s, fourteen-year-old Beka struggles with growing pains complicated by the society in which she lives while her country struggles to move from colonialism to independence.
The novel opens with three seminal events. The young Creole teen, Beka, has just won an essay contest at St. Cecilia’s Catholic school, Beka’s lifelong friend Toycie has died (but the traditional nine-day wake has not been held for her), and two members of the Belizean Peoples’ Independent Party, Pritchard and Gladsen, are imprisoned for disloyalty to the British government. These events symbolize the often painful challenge of coping with growth and change.
Narrated by flashbacks, the novel covers a period of seven months. While preparing for bed one night, Beka vows to “keep a wake” for her deceased friend Toycie “in the privacy of her own heart.” As she reminisces about the past months “waking the gone,” her story unfolds. Beka recalls that her life started to change the day she decided to stop lying. Her last lie was a big one. Failing three subjects, Beka had not been promoted to the next grade. Beka’s parents are struggling to pay for her private education. Fearing their reaction to her failure, Beka tells them that she passed, naively believing that they do not already suspect the truth. Beka’s lying habit is the most serious of the many conflicts she has with her parents. She does not clean the attic properly, she throws garbage into the yard, she steals money from her father’s pants pockets and she procrastinates with her chores. Beka’s mother, Lilla Lamb, often complains about Beka’s “laziness and ingratitude” to her husband, Bill Lamb, who then must discipline Beka. Beka seeks solace from her friend Toycie and her paternal grandmother, Granny Ivy, who shares a bedroom with Beka and usually takes her side.
In spite of these parent-teen conflicts, Beka does have a loving relationship with her parents. Her family is one of only two nuclear families in the community, and while her parents do not love all that Beka does, they do love her. Beka begs her father for a second chance at school, promising to pass this time, and Bill Lamb eventually relents. A nun at Beka’s school, Sister Gabriela, takes Beka under her wing, encouraging her to enter an essay contest about Belizean history. Granny Ivy fears that Beka has no chance of winning any contest at “no convent school” because such prizes always go to “Bakras, Panias or Expatriates," but certainly not to a Creole girl. Yet Beka does win and the novel ends where it began, with the essay contest prize and a much bigger win for Beka – self confidence and hope for the future.
Beka’s friend Toycie is seventeen, but she remembers what it was like to be fourteen. Beka is mature enough to “pretend seventeen” so the girls get along quite well. Both girls attend St. Cecilia’s, Toycie at a great financial sacrifice to her family. Toycie is all that Beka is not. Abandoned by her unmarried mother and father, she is raised by her Aunt Eila. They are extremely poor, yet Eila works several jobs to pay for Toycie’s tuition, knowing that education is the only way out of poverty in Belize. Beka and Toycie have been warned by the nuns about fooling around with boys and getting pregnant. Although Toycie is an excellent student and Beka must struggle, both girls do not want to end up like many other Creole women with no education, no husband and the only job available being “the washing bowl underneath...
(The entire section is 1518 words.)
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