The Death of Bees by Lisa O'Donnell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A very deceptive title - the supposed global avian apocalypse gets a brief mention but then disappears from the book entirely. And anyone looking for a The Secret Life of Bees-type book should look elsewhere.
This is the story of three people, two sisters (Nelly and Marnie) and the man next door (Lennie). Nelly and Marnie are suddenly orphaned and desperate to keep the authorities from finding out and sending them (probably separately) to foster homes, and Lennie becomes the stabilizing influence in their lives. Marnie, the elder sister, is a bit wild, doing drugs and having sex and yet is one of those natively intelligent people who gets As without studying. Nelly lives very much within her own head, using old-fashioned language and refusing to admit that she's growing into a young lady. Nelly's also a very talented violinist, using her music as a retreat from the chaotic world around her.
Their year of hiding the truth of their parents' death, trying to make ends meet and appear "normal" to the rest of the world is fraught. There are near-misses, half-truths and a long-missing grandfather who suddenly reappears. The tension is never overwhelming, but readers will sense the vague air of menace that never quite abates, only lessens. By the end, you're rooting for them to make it until Marnie's 16th birthday, when she can become legally able to care for Nelly.
ARC provided by publisher.