Bee Season

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Nine-year-old Eliza Naumann, resigned to her fate as a “student from whom great things should not be expected,” wins her school’s spelling bee and advances to the district bee. Afraid the news is insufficiently significant to share with her gifted family, she is reluctant to tell her father, Saul, a cantor and a devoted scholar of Jewish mysticism, about the bee.

Saul, who has been pouring his intellectual energy into the education of his teenage son, Aaron, is elated to hear that Eliza might, after all, be showing some sign of scholarship. After Eliza sweeps the district bee, the demanding and ambitious Saul begins a plan of preparation for the national bee a month away.

Eliza is guiltily pleased to have replaced her brother in her father’s attentions. Every day after school, she and Saul pour over word lists and practice visualization exercises in the privileged sanctuary of Saul’s study. Aaron cannot express his sense of loss over the daily Torah study and guitar playing he once enjoyed with his father and goes elsewhere seeking acceptance and spiritual enlightenment.

As Eliza learns to sense increasingly intricate connections within the letters, Saul gradually suspects she is gifted with the powers of the ancient Jewish mystics. When it is revealed that Miriam, Eliza’s brilliant but distant lawyer mother, has been living a secret life, Eliza believes her spelling skills can help put her disintegrating family back together.

Both sweetly touching and deeply heartbreaking in its portrayal of a young girl’s coming of age in a family whose members are united in their search for spiritual fulfillment but isolated in their emotional reserve, Bee Season is a charming debut from a wise and warm new voice in contemporary fiction.

Sources for Further Study

Library Journal 125 (April 15, 2000): 122.

Newsweek 135 (May 29, 2000): 70.

Publishers Weekly 247 (April 17, 2000): 50.

Time 156 (July 3, 2000): 62.

The Wall Street Journal, June 16, 2000, p. W9.