I reviewed Ms. Fusco’s book, The Wonder of Charlie Anne, a couple of years ago, and I enjoyed reading it. This novel, Beholding Bee, set during World War II in the northeastern U.S.(Ohio, Illinois), tells a good story, too. Bee is a feisty girl who learns over the course of the novel to stand up for herself and persevere—lessons we could all afford to learn and re-learn.
“When you have a diamond shining on your face, you have rules about things.
First you keep it hidden. There is a hose outside every place where we hook up because we need water to run our traveling show. Pauline and I keep a bucket and a sponge in the back of our hauling truck. Water from a hose is cold as cherry Popsicles, but if you let the bucket sit in the sun all day it heats up, and at night Pauline pours out her apple shampoo and we take turns washing our hair.
Pauline has a big towel and she wraps my hair and then combs it out and I don’t yell out much because she is mostly gentle. Then she braids my hair, and when it dries she lets it loose and it falls all soft in twists and curls and hides the diamond on my cheek. Because when you have a jewel on your face, some days you might not want to show everyone who feels like looking.”
Bee, an orphan, is forced to learn to depend on her own strength and imagination when the adults in her life, Pauline and Bobby, desert her. She has “two aunts”, Mrs. Swift and Mrs. Potter, wwho take her into their house and take care of her, but they’re very old. And no one else other than Bee can see them.
The idea of the two old ladies from the past that no one else can see is a little odd and even disconcerting. But it made the story more interesting and in a way more believable than it would have been if Bee was living just alone in an abandoned house.
I liked the lesson Bee learns about how unsatisfying revenge can be, and I liked the fact that Bee and her friends pray together for a friend’s father who is away in the war. None of the story is preachy or overtly Christian, but it felt good and grounded in Biblical principles. Bee learns the things she needs to learn from each of the adults in her life. From Pauline, she learns to read and do math, and about the stars and nature and all sorts of practical life lessons. Bobby teaches her to run and to spit. Her friend Ruth Ellen teaches her empathy, and Ruth Ellen’s mother serves as a surrogate mother and counselor to Bee. Her teacher, Miss Healy, teaches her that school can be a good, safe place, and other students teach Bee to recognize her won strengths and draw on her own inner resources.
Beholding Bee is just a good solid story, mostly realistic with a bit of fantasy thrown in for spice.