Sunday, February 10, 2013
'A BEGUILING TOUCH OF FANTASY'
"Historical fiction with a beguiling touch of fantasy, Beholding Bee takes place in New England in 1942. The traveling carnival is the only life eleven-year-old Bee (short for Beatrice) has ever known. Her parents were circus people who died in a truck accident when she was four. Ever since then, she’s been looked after by Pauline, who loves her, teaches her to read, and tries to protect her. They sell hotdogs and popcorn at the carnival. But the owner thinks Bee is old enough to start earning her keep by sitting in the look-see booth, where people would pay good money to gawk at the diamond-shape birthmark covering nearly half of her face.
Then Pauline is forced to go to Poughkeepsie and help set up a permanent carnival, and Bee’s only other friend, Bobby, leaves the traveling show to work in a factory building bomber engines. Bee takes her scruffy stray dog, Peabody, and Bobby’s runt of a pig, Cordelia, and runs away.
But Bee’s never completely alone, because the lady in the floppy orange hat, a lady only Bee can see, is always there when Bee needs her the most. When Bee finds the lady with the orange hat on the porch of a wonderful old house, she knows she’s home. Will a normal life, with school and friends, be possible for Bee now? Or will her diamond-shaped birthmark, or questions about her guardians, prevent her from finding happiness?
A luminous novel about standing up for yourself, finding your inner strength, and discovering the gems within. Bee’s a feisty character, who stomps around in worn-out work boots and overalls, but she’s also terribly vulnerable, and often holds her long hair tight over her face. Reading this, I got inside Bee’s head completely. This is one of those quiet books I’m so fond of (like the author’s previous novels, Tending to Grace and The Wonder of Charlie Anne), although there’s plenty of conflict for young Bee. Short chapters (some only a page or two) keep the pace moving along briskly, and the first-person present-tense narration gives the story immediacy.
The prose is so beautiful it’s poetic, making the novel highly quotable. Confronting two bullies who want to stare at her birthmark, Bee says they “stand grinning, as close to us as dug graves.” After her first day of school, where Bee endures humiliation, she comes home and cries in bed. “…whatever grit I had inside me is gone. I am soft as petals.” And when she learns more about her real family, and especially about all the women who came before her, she says, “I feel their bones gathering within me, knitting their strength to my insides.”