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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Beholding Bee, written by Kimberly Newton Fusco. Alfred A. Knopf, Random House. 2013. $19.99 ages 10 and up

"Beatrice Rose Honkenberry?"

The man is as old as Ellis and his hair is slicked to the right with pomade. His trousers fold in funny places from all the wrinkles and look as if they were made for somebody taller, the way they drag on the ground. He waits for someone to answer, but I hide behind my hair."

Pauline is Bee's sole caregiver, and their life is a traveling carnival where Pauline is in charge of the hot dog cart. Bee helps by chopping onions and grilling the hot dogs. Oh, you want to know how old she is? Bee is 12. And, you want to know where her parents are? Bee was only four when they died.  Since then, she and Pauline share a life that is undeniably difficult for many reasons.

First and foremost is the owner of the carnival, mean hearted and intimidating Ellis, who looks to a time when he can use Bee as an attraction in his carnival. She has a birthmark that covers one side of her face. Pauline calls it a diamond. Because of it, Bee is the target of unwanted attention and bullying. To draw less attention she uses her hair as a cover for the birthmark, and keeps her head down. There are good things about being where she is. She loves Cordelia, a racing pig. She loves her newfound stray dog, Peabody. She cares about Bobby, the man who looks after the pigs and who teaches Bee to run (so that she can get away from bullies) and to spit (in case running away isn't an option). She knows that he loves Pauline, but Pauline doesn't know it.

Pauline leaves the carnival in the arms of a new love interest to open a permanent carnival in Poughkeepsie. Bee is terrified that Ellis will discover her dog and get rid of him, and of her future with him and his carnival. Taking Cordelia and Peabody, she runs away, hoping to find the house she has always wanted to live in. It will be a place where they can be a family.

Kimberly Fusco creates an inspiring heroine in Bee, allowing readers to feel her fears, sympathize with her lot in life, and hope right along with her that life will improve. The elderly women, Mrs. Swift and Mrs. Potter, come into her life every time she can really use their help. Despite the fact that no one else can see them, Bee knows they are there. With Pauline gone and the protection she provided, Bee must learn to care for herself in the best way possible.

Her story is brilliantly conceived to give us a set of characters to admire, and to regard with contempt.  She meets a new friend and goes to school, all the while worrying that there will be questions about the women she says care for her. They are never available when visitors come, and there are suspicions in the community about Bee's rights to be living in the house. She remains vulnerable, but is of strong stock. She proves it time and again.

The chapters take only a few pages, and they kept me reading 'just one more chapter' until I was all out, sighing with pleasure at such a wondrous read. The quick pace and Bee's strong first person narrative will keep readers doing exactly the same thing.

So beautifully written, and forever hopeful.

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