In a world without bees, children are employed to pollinate the precious crops with feathers full of pollen. Others- those not yet ten or the not so nimble and quick- spend their time killing the bugs which might damage the fruit. 'Lessons' are sometimes broadcast over loudspeakers whilst the children are working, but they receive little education. The fruits of their labours are sent for the rich.city folk to enjoy. This is Peony's world- she's poor and her life is hard, yet she is happy with Gramps and Magnolia (her sister) living in their shack. Her mother, however, has different ideas and has left her children to go to the city in the hope of making a better life.
Abducted by her mother and forced to go and work in the city, Peony's life is turned upside down and she is determined to return to the world she knows and loves.
Set in a dystopian world, 'How to Bee' offers an alarming glimpse at a possible future for us all where bees are extinct. It is a divided society, a world of haves and have-nots, with child labour the norm. Bren MacDibble intertwines Peony's harsh existence with that of Esmeralda, the rich girl whose household she finds herself working in, allowing the reader to see the vast distance between their lives- and yet find the positives in both worlds.
It is a dark picture, yet Peony's irrepressible, optimistic character shines through. She is a real joy and her outlook on life is wonderful. In the midst of poverty and hardship, she enjoys the warmest family relationships with her grandfather and sister and shows incredible loyalty to her mother in spite of everything. Always ready to assist others, she takes no nonsense from Ez, yet she recognises her need and puts her own problems aside to help. Esmeralda's parents enjoy a warm, loving relationship in stark contrast to the abusive nature of Peony's Ma and her latest man, the 'Ape'.
'How to Bee' is a moving, intelligent novel, offering plenty of food for thought and a cast of appealing- and not so appealing- characters which linger with you long after the story is finished, making it perfect for our Moving On category.
How to Bee Bren MacDibble
Old Barn Books ISBN: 978-1910646441
You can read another review of 'How to Bee' here.