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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Hour of the Bees

hour-of-the-beesHOUR OF THE BEES has been mentioned a couple of times in our comments section, but hasn’t gotten as much love as maybe it should.  It is definitely a book that has stuck with me over the months and one I think is worthy of a bit of discussion.

I really enjoyed the story within a story here.  In that way it compares nicely with WHEN THE SEA TURNED TO SILVER, but I might have found this one even more compelling, as the story within a story revealed itself slowly throughout the book building up a nice amount of suspense.

The stark setting was a good match for the harsh characters and the magical realism.

It compares, also, to GHOSTS.  Both stories feature girls at the edge of young adulthood learning about and learning to embrace the Mexican side of their heritage.  Both also deal with death.  HOUR OF THE BEES, however, does so with more heart and less controversy and uses fantastical elements with much stronger effect.

There were some minor flaws and quibbles I have that I think keep it out of my top picks, but ultimately a very worthwhile story.  What do you think?



Sharon McKellar About Sharon McKellar

Sharon McKellar is the Supervising Librarian for Teen Services at the Oakland Public Library in California. She has served on the Rainbow List Committee, the Notable Children’s Recordings Committee, The Arbuthnot Honor Lecture Committee, and the 2015 Caldecott Committee. You can reach her at


  1. This is on my “must read” list because it emerged as a new favorite among my Newbery Club members just last week!

  2. Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

    I listened to this one on audiobook and found it mesmerizing. I wonder how much of it was the text and how much was the reader? Would have to read the print version to find out. I agree with Sharon that this one would definitely be worth that second reading if I was on the real committee.

  3. I read it and loved it – just not as much as some others. It has a wonderful, yes, mesmerizing story and kept my interest throughout. The ending was beautifully handled. I have recommended this title to kids but have had no feedback.

  4. I loved this book. The characters were very well realized, with both realistic flaws and relatable merits. The setting was pinpoint perfect, the claustrophobia and safety net of an isolated desert setting coming across brilliantly.

    The magical realism of the book was both a wonder and an annoyance. On the one hand, I liked that it was never quite resolved. On the other hand, there were little things – like Sergio saying that it “wasn’t normal” for the villagers to heal, when, in his life experience, it was actually normal. Mostly, though, I was all-in for the fantastical aspects.

    Most of the things that I did not love wholeheartedly were perspectives that are very adult. I’m not sure that it makes a children’s book less distinguished if my occasional frown is coming from a very adult sensibility. I loved this book. The characters were very well realized, with both realistic flaws and relatable merits. The setting was pinpoint perfect, the claustrophobia and safety net of an isolated desert setting coming across brilliantly. For instance, I was annoyed at the idea that putting someone with severe dementia into a nursing home or selling their house in order to pay for that is necessarily a terrible thing. That was a concept that was never challenged in the book. While Serge was a special case, there are many times where someone with dementia is unsafe or makes those around them unsafe and needs specialized care. Finding a setting to provide the care and environment that you cannot in your own home is not cruel, it’s necessary. But that’s my feeling as an adult, particularly as an adult who has started to notice that almost every book for young people that includes a nursing home revolves around how terrible that nursing home is, and/or why breaking your elderly loved one out of the nursing home is a great idea.

    As feel good as the move to the ranch at the end of the book was, it also made me wonder whether Carol’s parents had given up their own hopes and dreams and careers to move to the ranch. You can refrain from spitting on your roots without subsuming your own wishes.

    But now I’ve spent more ink talking about the little things that bothered me, instead of the wonderful characters and complicated motivations, and the beautiful ways the stories intertwine and enhance one another. Not quite relevant to the Newbery discussion, but I’ll second Jonathan’s recommendation of the audiobook. The narrator does a beautiful job.

  5. Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

    I’ll also add that in comparison to GHOSTS which we discussed earlier, this one seems much more like magical realism to me.

  6. I think, also like Ghosts, Hour of the Bees demonstrates the challenges of attempting to write someone else’s story, and the need for #OwnVoices. I listened to this one on audiobook, and while I was quickly drawn in and magical realism is right up my alley, Eager’s heavy-handedness with Serge threw me right back out—”Why do you spit on your roots, chiquita?” As a child of immigrants (albeit, Asian, not Latino), this struck me as caricaturesque, and it sent me off to learn more about Eager. Sure enough, she’s a white woman who “went on a Gabriel García Márquez binge [and thought,] ‘This is what I’m trying to do!'” (

    I appreciate Eager’s awareness of her whiteness and the need for research. I just think she wasn’t successful. Too many things didn’t add up for me—mom’s sudden ability to cook Mexican food; how Serge is all chiquita this and chiquita that, but when Carol realizes that he means to her, he is “Grandpa”; and more.

    This really troubled me, but I haven’t heard others with similar concerns. I’d be curious to hear from readers whose voices Eager attempts to represent.

    • Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

      Hanna, can you clarify what suggests a caricature for you? Is it the rejection of a heritage by the second generation? Or the term of endearment, “chiquita”? Or both?

      • Jonathan, like you, I listened to it, and the first instance of that dialog, and its recurrence, really struck me. Even with Almarie Guerra’s generally excellent narration, it felt heavy-handed and false.

        I think it was all of the above. It felt like a second generation story written by someone who had read about second generation immigrants and their tendency to reject their heritage, someone who had looked up the term “chiquita” and a few Mexican dishes. It could have been the exaggerated “Carol-eeena.” I would have to look more closely at the text to find other specific moments, but it read as too many stereotypical tropes thrown together and a lack of freshness or perspective or depth.

        I don’t want to take away from the clever and creative story that Eager tells. The magical story is, arguably, fresh and new. But she chose to give this story to a Mexican American girl, and the frame, the story of an immigrant’s (although, spoiler alert, in this case, Serge may be an immigrant of time?) children and grandchildren, is one we can measure against people’s real experiences. I think it falls flat.

    • Sharon McKellar Sharon McKellar says:

      I really appreciate this comment, as I’ve been wondering if there were any concerns I hadn’t yet heard about regarding this aspect of the book. I really welcome the voices of the community depicted to speak out. We do need #ownvoices as much as possible, but I hate to disregard a book entirely if the author does a good job.

      So, like you, I’d love to hear from some others on this!

  7. I loved this beautiful, beautiful book. I put off reading it because my grandfather had steadily worsening dementia and I thought it would hit too close to home, but when I finally picked up HOUR OF THE BEES, it was a feeling of “yes, this is what I needed,” and reading it was a kind of release on all the feelings pent up inside me. The bees, the green glass lake, the cracked earth…what magical language!! I am interested to see the response of Latinx readers to this one, and I can’t speak to it in that respect, but I thought the dementia was handled well. I’m 25 and when I finished reading this, I gave it to my 12 year old cousin, hoping that a character so similar to her (and going through what we were going through) might be helpful. Our grandpa passed away a few months after we both read this and I think this book helped both of us in different ways. One of my favorites of the year, absolutely.

  8. Kate McCue-Day says:

    This book remains in my top 5. I really don’t think it will win but I did love it.

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