Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Review: Bee Summers by Melanie Dugan

What would drive a mother to leave her family without another word? And how does such an action permanently change her child? Does it really even matter why a beloved mother is gone, if she has gone of her own free will? Melanie Dugan's lyrical new novel, Bee Summers, explores this question, ways to recover from unexpected loss, and the unseen but always acknowledged scars left on a heart.

The summer that Lissy Singer is eleven, her mother walks out on Lissy and her father. At first, Lissy believes that her mother has just gone to a rally but as days pass without word, she then becomes convinced that her mother has cancer and wants to spare Lissy the pain of watching her suffer. Lissy cannot begin to conceive of what else would make her mother disappear so completely and so determinedly. As her mother's disappearance stretches on, Lissy spends her summer traveling around on her father's beekeeping route, unloading hives in orchards and then looping back again to retrieve them once the bees' job pollinating is finished. She meets and stays with the people on her father's route: Earl, an aging African American orchardist whose kindness and easy acceptance is immediately appealing; Chance, a famous author who is semi-reclusive but who helps nurture the spark of creativity in Lissy; and Opal and Les, a kindly woman and her ailing but abusive husband living on a rural farm. As Lissy meets each of these people on her father's route, she learns about life and the ways others live, layering experience after experience in her own life.

Lissy's mother doesn't return and she overhears whispers and gossip she doesn't quite understand in their small town. But as she grows up, alienated from the town, she holds her hurt at her abandonment close to her chest, never discussing it with anyone. Apart from her summer migrations with her comfortably silent father, she seems to live on the periphery, waiting for her own chance to escape the town. When she wins a scholarship to college, supplemented by a gift from her Aunt Hetty, she leaves for university and never looks back. Her volume of published poetry concentrated on the long ago wounds from her mother's leaving, telling her experience and the silence and pain surrounding it. But her version is only one version of her mother's disappearance, as she will eventually come to see.

Lissy as a character is lovely and heartbreaking. She is very smart and precocious but also softly na├»ve. Her worry that liking the manicure Opal takes her for means she is taking sides against her mother, who would not have approved, is wrenching. She very much wants her mother to return to her and doesn't want to do anything that could possibly prevent that. But she is curious and just a little bit open to the world her mother never knew and people her mother never met so she finds herself growing and changing anyway. The writing here is lush and the descriptions of the natural world are gorgeous. The pacing of the novel is languid, dizzy with the buzzing of bees and heavy with the sweet, hot scent of summers. The majority of the book takes place in the seven years before Lissy leaves for university but the quarter set during her settled adult life allows the reader to look back with her at those long past summers with more adult eyes and to see the ways in which they formed her, good and bad alike. This is a magnificent coming of age novel, a testimony to resilience and the uncovering of truth, even if it jars with memory, a perfect read for the long, lazy days of summer.

For more information about Melanie Dugan and the book, check out her website. Follow the rest of the blog tour or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the author for sending me a copy of the book for review.


  1. Even from your description of the book I get an amazing image of summer and bees.

    Thanks for being on the tour! I'm featuring your review on TLC's Facebook page today.

  2. Hallo, Hallo! :)

    I finished reading "Bee Summers" tonight and am a part of the tour too! I had such an emotionally gutting connection to the story and to the character of Lissy, that I was so honoured to have found this novel through TLC! I was so caught up in the emotions of the ending, I had forgotten to add a bit of a note about Chance! I softened to his character after he gave Lissy the book on Greek Myths, but at first I could not quite get a sure footing about him! Isn't it interesting how some characters you warm too quite readily but others, it takes a bit of passage to sort out your impression!?

    I am making my rounds tonight as I posted my review after 11pm,... I am happy to have found that other readers are as wrapped up in Lissy's story as I am! It is always nice to find others on the tour I am participating had such a gratifying experience which mirrors my own!

    Jorie's Review of Bee Summers

    ps: I know how you feel about an absence of comments; although sometimes I think there are so many keenly written blogs that perhaps everyone does not always have the time to leave comments? I carry-on knowing how much joy I have in blogging and in of sharing my reading life with those who alight on my posts.


I have had to disable the anonymous comment option to cut down on the spam and I apologize to those of you for whom this makes commenting a chore. I hope you'll still opt to leave me your thoughts. I love to hear what you think, especially so I know I'm not just whistling into the wind here at my computer.

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