Hour of the Bees by Linsay Eagar, a debut novel for young teens, is a perfect story for summer readers to keep them entertained indoors during the current heat wave. Hopefully, there will many more adventures written by this talented author.
The story is told by 12-year-old Carol (Carolina) who is being ripped away from her planned summer vacation of friends and adventures in Albuquerque because her family must head to the remote sheep ranch in southwestern New Mexico to help a grandfather she’s never met. Because of the ravages of dementia, her family must get the house ready to sell before putting Serge, the grandfather, in a home in the city where he will be safe.
Carol’s family is a colorful bunch. Her mom, Patricia, is a nurse and a beauty, who suddenly turns into a great cook of traditional Mexican meals. Dad, Raul, a contractor, is Serge’s estranged son, who barely talks to his father. There is a mystery there Carol wishes to discover. Older sister, Alta, who has a different father and enough teen attitude to spare, makes Carol’s life very uncomfortable at times. Baby Lu (Luis) is an active 1-year-old, and Carol becomes his built-in babysitter for the summer.
This family is under a lot of stress, and Eagar plumbs these relationships and deftly portrays a family in crisis and change. This all enhances the big changes developing in Carol’s life. She is going into middle school and is on the verge of becoming a teenager. She and her friends are experiencing growing pains and exploring new emotional territory that is both exciting and scary. Mixed into all this is Carol’s and her friends’ struggle with their heritage. They are trying to distance themselves from being Mexican or Mexican American and just be cool, American teens.
From the moment Carol arrives at the ranch and sees Serge for the first time, she is drawn to him and his magnetic blue eyes. From the very beginning they seem to have a special connection. It could be that she reminds him of Rosa, her grandmother, who died the very same day Carol was born. The first night at the ranch, it is so hot and strange that Carol can’t sleep. She goes onto the porch and Serge begins to tell her a story. “Once upon a time, there was this tree ...”
Throughout Hour of the Bees, this magical story is spun out to Carol a small portion at a time. This fascinating, enchanting story is part history of her grandparents, her father, the land and the creatures that populate it. A big part of the story explains the reason for the devastating drought that is killing the land and animals that live there. It also highlights the importance of special bees that Serge believes are returning to the ranch to end the drought.
In what may seem like a heavy subject for a preteen, Eagar intertwines into the story references to a brochure called “The Seville Guide to Dementia for Caregivers” supplied by the home Serge will be moving to at the end of summer. When Serge exhibits some of the behaviors included in the booklet, Carol remembers what the experts say to do to handle the scary situations. This is very sobering, real and heartbreaking, especially if a reader has had a loved one with dementia or Alzheimer’s. Because many of the baby boomer generation are now grandparents, some are victims of this distressing disease.
Eagar has populated Hour of the Bees with great characters who are easy to relate to and placed them in a distinctive and compelling location. She then takes Carol and her family on a life-altering, mystical adventure sure to fascinate.
Eagar skillfully blends themes of family relationships, knowledge and acceptance of self with a magical tale of a tree with special powers and a land that enchants its residents.
This novel will draw young readers into its well written pages and take them on a heartwarming journey.
Leslie Doran is a retired teacher, freelance writer and former New Mexican who claims Durango as her forever home.