Bee has been part of Ellis’s travelling show all her twelve years. Since her parents’ death, she and her unofficial guardian, Pauline, have been a team. Bee helps with the hot dog cart and looks for a home that will finally get the two of them off the road. Pauline keeps records of Bee’s life and fights to keep her — and her large, diamond-shaped birthmark — out of Ellis’s “Look See” exhibit. When Pauline gets involved with a newcomer, Ellis takes the opportunity to send her off to help start a satellite show that he hopes will boost flagging wartime profits. Feeling betrayed, and vulnerable to Ellis’s greed, Bee takes off, looking for a place to claim as home.
What she finds is the cozy little house of her dreams, inhabited by two old women who welcome her and settle her into the bedroom they’ve prepared. Mrs. Potter offers comfort; Mrs. Swift insists that Bee make something of herself, beginning with school. And here’s where the story really gets going. At school, where she’s placed in the “special” class to avoid teasing, Bee discovers the responsibility of friendship, the satisfaction of being expected to thrive, and the possibility that standing up to a bully may require as much compassion as it does bravery.
Though I wasn’t completely satisfied with the book as a whole, the complexity of the characters and the relationships between them is exceptional. Nearly every character with any significance in the novel has flaws and struggles of his or her own, and each is eventually shown to deserve at least a bit of sympathy. Beholding Bee would be a great choice for a group read, with lots of potential for discussion about friendship, bullying, home, and what it means to be a good teacher or parent.
The American Library Association’s Association for Library Services to Children recently included Beholding Bee in its list of nominees for Notable Children’s Books. Check out the rest of the list!