‘How to Bee’ is one of those books that leaves an emotional footprint in your life with its moving and thoughtful story set in a future dystopian world. This is not a world that stretches beyond the realms of imagination, where children fight to death for entertainment or where robots secretly plot to rule mankind, this is a reality that could actually happen. Imagine a world where we have no bees and children in the grip of poverty are employed by farmers to scramble through fruit trees with feather wands to pollinate them and whose world exists only within the confines of the farm. Peony is nine years old and is desperate to be a bee, despite being a year too young she refuses to give up, adamant she will convince the foreman to let her have her way. But even someone with Peony’s fierce determination can’t control the world she lives in and she finds herself ripped away from her family and the life she holds so dear – despite its apparent bleakness – by her estranged mother. Forced into service she meets the spoilt rich girl Esmerelda who in contrast with Peony has a perfect life but in reality is crippled by anxiety. Together they try to find a way to bring to each other the one thing they both desire.
This is such an emotional, moving story of the importance of dreams, family and friendship, exploring how people can find comfort in the smallest of things even when their life seems difficult. As a parent of a daughter who is the same age as Peony I find it exceptionally hard to read about the harsh life that she leads but this isn’t how she understands her life to be until she is taken away from it. In fact she struggles with this seemingly better quality of life where she has clothes and shoes to wear when all she wants to do is run free and wild in her bare feet, she desperately craves a return to her old life and her family. Her life experiences are quite brutal with some shocking scenes of domestic violence but I think as an adult I read this entirely differently to a child, I read beyond the words on the page and imagine more.
Bren has created an incredibly likeable character in Peony whose voice rings strong and true throughout the narrative. Her desire to be heard and break free from any social constraints will fill you with dismay and warmth in equal measures. She is a free spirit who refuses to be tamed and for that I love her. The intense loyalty she feels towards her grandfather, sister and the home they have created is just incredible and heart-warming. Although this is filled with many sad moments the story is ultimately uplifting and filled with hope, especially the ending which filled my heart with so much joy but made me weep at the same time. Bren combines beautiful storytelling with an underlying environmental warning about how we must look after the creatures of our planet so that we don’t lose them forever.
Thank you to Old Barn Books for sending me a copy of this wonderful book. ‘How to Bee’ is released on May 3rd but is available to buy online now or pre-order from any good bookshop.