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Summer Reading

To keep summer reading buzzing, three books about bees

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OK, only one is actually about bees, but the other two have "bee" in their names. Give us a break: It's summertime.

Little Bee, Chris Cleave (2005)

Chris Cleave's first novel, Incendiary, about a bombing in London, was released the same day as an eerily similar bombing. The coincidence catapulted him to fame, and to the challenge to match that attention with a strong sophomore performance—which he did with Little Bee (2008). Once again, he chose to tell a story about modern-day London—about immigrants, race relations—but did so without (too many) overreaching sweeps of history, and (mostly) by telling a story in its simplest, day-to-day details.

Little Bee, the title character, is a Nigerian refuge who has been languishing in an English detention center for two years before finally escaping in the most low-key jail breakout in literary history. This confidently understated tone carries throughout.

The story primarily is a dance between two women—one who has lost her country, and the other whose husband, a British diplomat, has recently killed himself; in fact, right after Little Bee phoned him. While that mysterious event—the diplomat's suicide—serves as the story's catalyst, it is hardly the driving force. Instead, it is the observations and delicate cataloging of personal tragedies that provide emotional heft. While the two women's emotions are profound and remarkably similar—the hurt they feel and their lives' rudderless state—it is not through weeping Oprah-sofa sessions they bond, but by simple and superficial connections—like U2 songs, reality TV, and Batman costumes. It is this restraint to not exploit the deeper emotional wounds that makes Cleave such a smart and captivating writer, and that oddly lend his stories such a reality.

Bee Season, Myla Goldberg (2000)

A wonderfully simple story with deep-reaching implications: About a family that cannot communicate with each other, but is each trying to figure out how to communicate with God—whether it is the Jewish son who becomes a Hare Krishna or the daughter who learns that words and letters speak to her and she becomes a spelling bee champ.

Like a Coen Brothers film, the tone is quirky, insightful and dour yet playfully funny. "We are all invisible," the brother observes. "It seems like a very Buddhist