On the surface, “Bee Season” by Myla Goldberg is the story of a young girl as she pursues her dream of winning the National Spelling Bee. In truth, it is much more. Although there is a decent bit about the spelling bee experience, the book spends equal time on Jewish mysticism, the Hare Krishna faith, familial relationships, marriage, and mental illness. Impressively, the author does a wonderful job with each of these subjects, and I learned quite a bit about other religions. Her treatment of one character’s mental illness is worthy of being included in college psychology courses.
That being said, I almost wish that the book had concentrated more on Eliza and her pursuit of spelling glory, along with her relationships with her family members and how they change during the course of the book. Even as I enjoyed learning about the other big topics included in the novel, it often felt like too much for one story. Perhaps you can tell that I’m a bit ambivalent regarding my opinion of this book….but I submit that the fact that I’m still thinking about it, and trying to figure out how I felt about it, is a mark that “Bee Season” is a worthwhile book to read.
My recommendation: Read it, and expect to learn some things. Just don’t go in expecting the story to be primarily about the National Spelling Bee.