Thursday, June 19, 2014

The book about the bees

A lot of people are surprised to find out that my college degree is in biology. Yes, I know a lot more about the birds and the bees than literary criticism. So most of the time I muster the guts to read my past book reviews, I cringe. I know diddly squat about how to properly write a book review.

When a novel comes out that has a lot to with science, especially biology, I tend to gobble it up. That's what happened when I heard about Laline Paull's novel The Bees. I just knew that I'd enjoy it. It's a fantastic mash-up of sorts of a National Geographic show and an adventure story. Also, it provides the reader a broad view of what goes inside a beehive.

Unlike other people, I've no qualms on having talking animals as characters. Yes, the bees in The Bees talk to one another. Paull makes it not just seem that the bees communicate using words, but that they also employ their body chemistry to convey different emotions such as fear, mirth, and ecstasy. It's a fascinating biological concept—how many animals use their bodily secretions to reach out to others.

The hive is a collective, but one bee stands out in this novel, and it's a humble sanitation worker named Flora 717. In The Bees, we are introduced to the various groups of bees; there are the sages who have the queen's ear, the drones who collect nectar, to name a few. It's like a strict caste system. If you're born a sanitation worker, you aren't supposed to be talking; you just clean the hive of its mess for the rest of your lives.

Here's where Flora 717 is different. She isn't supposed to have any ability to talk, but she can. And she's big for a sanitation worker. She also makes decisions which she thinks would be good for the hive. She encounters wasps and manages to have a decent conversation with one. She even goes against the rule that only the queen can breed when she lays her own eggs.

While the naturalistic elements of The Bees have the feel that Paull has a good scientific background (or at least did extensive research on the topic), the plot can seem to drag at some points. What is it exactly that Flora 717 is meant to do? There are chapters wherein we just read about Flora 717 assume different roles. These chapters just do not carry the story forward. They just keep on emphasizing that our beloved sanitation worker is different.

Loving it
Halfway through the novel, I had this wish that Flora 717 would assume the role of queen. But I realized that she's way too interesting to become a boring monarch, whose only purpose is to breed. In a way, my wish was somehow granted because Flora 717 does play a huge role as to the queen's successor.

As a whole, The Bees is a enjoyable novel. The biology major in me was totally geeking out. The book's thrilling chapters were indeed very satisfying, edge-of-your-seat levels even. There's also drama, especially every time Flora 717 gets confronted by a sage. There really is something for everyone.

Read this book if:
  1. You love honey.
  2. You're not a big fan of labels because they perpetuate the idea of stereotypes.
  3. You know that bees are an important part of ecology.