Monday, April 29, 2013

Book Review: Beholding Bee, by Kimberly Newton Fusco (Alfred A. Knopf, 2013)

Recommended for ages 8-12.

Award-winning author Kimberly Newton Fusco really knows how to create strong female characters that stay with you long after you've finished her book.  In her most recent book, Beholding Bee, she weaves an especially magical and moving story that's perfect for middle-grade readers.

As the novel opens, we meet 11-year old Bee, who lives with a traveling carnival.  It's 1942, and Bee's parents, carnival workers, were killed when she was four and she's been raised by a kindly young woman, Pauline.  Bee fills her days chopping onions and helping at the carnival's hot dog cart.  She has to deal with teasing about a prominent birthmark on her face, although her guardian Pauline suggests it's a precious diamond.  In fact, the carnival owner only seems to be keeping Bee so that he can use her in his "freak show" when she's a little older.  But when Bee's two best friends leave the carnival, Bee decides it's time to find a real home, and takes to the road with a stray dog as unwanted as she is and a small piglet.

Bee is taken in by two mysterious but kindly old women, Mrs. Swift and Mrs. Potter, who live in an old home that seems straight out of a fairy tale.  Their clothes seem to come from another era, and curiously only Bee is able to see these women she calls her "aunts." For the first time, Bee goes to school, where she must cope with cruel bullying.  Although she's put in a special education class where she clearly does not belong, at school she makes her first friend her own age.  Gradually, Bee learns that there are people who care about her, and she learns to accept herself for who she is.

This is a lovely, lyrical, story filled with what Bookpage called "real magic"--"created by love and conjured up by need."  Kimberly Newton Fusco manages to fuse magic and realism, love and cruelty, loneliness and hope into another novel that's a treasure for middle-grade readers (and adults who love to share books with children!)