How To Bee, the debut novel from New Zealand writer Bren MacDibble, initially paints a bleak picture of life. It is set in the near future, soon after repeated environmental disasters have wreaked havoc upon the ecosystems of the world and entirely wiped out its population of bees. Young children have taken over their work of pollinating flowers, including Peony, a 9-year-old girl who scrapes a simple living as a ‘bee’ with her siblings on an Australian farm. Despite the protests of her family, one day her mother decides that Peony must move to the city in order to find a job. She tries hard to adjust to her new life and friends, but has no intention of continuing her new urban existence for any longer than necessary.
Peony is a strong and engaging lead character, who shows great resilience and determination throughout. She is an inspiration to those around her, always leading by example when faced with difficult circumstances. The huge contrasts that exist between Peony’s two lifestyles help us empathise with her impossible situation as the story progresses and we begin to realise how desperately she is fighting for control of her future.
The environmental issues covered, including the stark portrayal of the unsustainability and selfishness of lifestyles based around the high consumption of energy and resources, are particularly pertinent. Some other difficult topics are introduced, including domestic abuse towards both children and adults, which means that the book is best suited to late later junior years and early secondary years. The ending of the book is reminiscent of the conclusion of The Road by Cormac McCarthy, with the final flicker of hope just bright enough to extinguish some of the previous darkness. I thoroughly enjoyed reading How To Bee although, with its depiction of a world perhaps not too far removed from the one we are currently heading towards, it was a challenging and often emotional journey.
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