Review: The Summer We Saved the Bees by Robin Stevenson
Publication: September 1, 2015 by Orca Book Publishers
Verdict: Very Good/Excellent
How do you plan for the future when your own parents don’t believe you have one?
Wolf ’s mother is obsessed with saving the world’s honeybees. He gets that. It’s another thing entirely when she announces that she’s taking her Save the Bees show on the road—family style and complete with mortifying bee costumes. What will it take for Wolf and his sisters to convince her that dragging the family around the province in a beat-up Ford panel van may not be the best idea she ever had?
Canadian author Robin Stevenson is a writer whose novels I always look forward to reading. In contemporary YA novels such as Escape Velocity, Hummingbird Heart, and The World Without Us, Stevenson has explored a diverse roster of topics (everything from depression and attempted suicide to absentee parents) with nuanced and compelling teenage characters. In The Summer We Saved the Bees, we follow the fascinating narrative of Wolf, a twelve-year old with an inordinately heavy load on his shoulders. His scarily single-minded mom’s latest mission involves the fight to save the world’s honeybees from extinction. The only thing is that her plan involves yanking Wolf and his sisters out of school and forcing the entire family (somewhat blank stepdad included) on a cross-Canada road trip to spread the word about the demise of planet earth.
Stevenson has crafted such an interesting and complex story here with layers of raw emotion and surprise- against a rather timely backdrop of global environmental concern. I was completely hooked into Wolf’s voice and the story from the get-go- and that pull didn’t let up until the end of story. On the surface of it, it sounds as though Wolf’s mom, Jade, is on to a noble cause: isn’t it a good thing that she is so eco-conscious, stringently green, and fighting for the planet? Isn’t it great that she wants all of her children to be involved and fighting for such a global issue? As readers become more exposed to how Wolf and his sisters struggle to be heard over Jade’s increasingly erratic and potentially harmful demands, however, we discover just how deep the cracks in Wolf’s family run.
The Summer We Saved the Bees is, I think, Stevenson’s strongest work yet in an already great catalogue of work. Beautifully written, moving, and covering harsh realities of one boy’s life, this is very strong read and one I definitely recommend. Readers who like their contemporary Canadian lit, those interested in smart and original contemporary middle-grade/YA, or those who like the writing of authors such as Susan Juby, Tom Ryan, Vikki VanSickle or Susin Nielsen may especially enjoy this novel.