Lost in the Beehive
In Lost In the Beehive, author Michele Young-Stone introduces readers to teenager Gloria Ricci, a young woman doing the best she can to make her way in a confusing and often unforgiving world. The novel is set against the backdrop of the tumultuous 1960s, an era I’m not often drawn to, but Gloria’s story captivated me from start to finish, and I’m now chomping at the bit to read more historical fiction set in this time period.
Bees are the one constant in Gloria’s life. Every time something significant happens to her, she sees swarms of bees buzzing around her. No one else ever seems to see them, but this makes no difference to Gloria, and she views the bees as her personal guardians. I’ll say here that the strange presence of the bees is the one false note in what is otherwise a perfect story, but more on that later.
One summer, Gloria meets the enigmatic Isabel, a sophisticated visitor to Gloria’s rather dull small town who is everything Gloria is not. There’s something about the glamorous Isabel that awakens strange feelings in Gloria, and, before she knows it, the two are spending all their free time together. Gloria knows she’s attracted to Isabel, and she gets the distinct impression her feelings are reciprocated, but, when she tries to initiate a kiss, things go horribly wrong, and Gloria is made to pay a terrible price.
Gloria’s parents have been floundering for most of her life. Years before, Gloria’s mother gave birth to twins who died not long after their birth, and Mrs. Ricci was plunged into a dark depression that has never completely lifted. Gloria has pretty much raised herself, as her father spends most of his time working and her mother is absent in mind if not in body. So, when they learn that their daughter has been caught kissing another girl, they’re at a loss as to how to cope. They decided to send Gloria away to the Belmont Institute, a place where she can supposedly be cured of all her unnatural urges and one day lead a normal life. Gloria reluctantly agrees to spend some time at Belmont, but it’s clear to the reader that she only does so as a way to get away from her unhappy home. Gloria herself finds nothing the least bit unnatural about her feelings for Isabel, but she knows arguing the point will accomplish nothing.
Once she arrives at Belmont, Gloria soon realizes she’s made a horrible mistake. The Institute is a cold and dreary place where each moment of her life is governed by a strict set of rules that are supposed to make her see the error of her ways. She is strongly discouraged from speaking to any of the institute’s other patients, but she finds herself inexplicably drawn to a brooding young man named Sheffield Schoeffler. She’s not attracted to him sexually, but there’s something about him that calls to her, making her think they might be kindred spirits of a sort.
After spending several months at Belmont, Gloria and Sheffield are finally discharged. Sheffield heads off to New York, where Gloria eventually joins him after spending a few months back home with her family. It’s obvious to Gloria that Sheffield has been deeply damaged by his time at Belmont, and she’s desperate for a way to save her friend from his own self-destructive tendencies, but one person can’t truly save another. Eventually, Sheffield takes his own life, and Gloria is left alone to battle her feelings of guilt and abandonment.
Over the next several years, Gloria struggles to figure out who she really is and where she belongs. She marries Jacob, an abusive, controlling man who does his best to isolate her from her family and friends. She does her best to play the part of his devoted wife while still clinging to her own vision of herself and her place in the world. Eventually, she is forced to take a stand against Jacob, a stand that could cost her everyone and everything she holds dear.
Lost In the Beehive is a compulsively readable novel filled with colorful characters who practically leap off the page. The author’s writing is lyrical and evocative, making me feel as though I had been transported back in time to the 1960s. Gloria is a wonderfully relatable heroine, deeply flawed but incredibly committed to bettering herself even in the face of seemingly insurmountable difficulties. In short, there’s a lot to love about this novel.
However, the thing with the bees struck a sour note. I normally love fantasy and magical realism, but I had a hard time with it here. You see, Gloria is the only one who ever sees the bees, and I couldn’t help but find their presence unnecessary. It gave parts of the story a sort of surreal feeling that detracted a bit from its overall power.
There are a few depictions of various types of abuse that might prove difficult for some readers. They’re not as graphic as some other things I’ve read, but they are a rather integral part of Gloria’s story and the author doesn’t hold back when describing them.
Lost in the Beehive is a story that is unlike anything else I’ve read in recent months. Its darkness is wonderfully balanced out by our heroine’s bright spirit and quirky sense of humor. It’s a story that will remain with me for a long time to come, and I strongly urge you all to pick it up at your earliest convenience.