The Summer We Saved the Bees by Robin Stevenson

the summer we saved the bees

3 out of 5 stars

I reviewed this book for the Rocky Mountain Book Awards

Some spoiler!

Wolf’s mother has decided it is her personal mission to go out and save the world’s honeybees from extinction. Not content to go at it alone, she recruits the whole family. Now Wolf, his mother, stepdad, stepsister and  two half sisters are setting out on a cross-country trip to bring awareness of the issue to the people. Of course this means that all the kids get dragged out of school early, have to wear bee costumes and get to live out of a van for the foreseeable future.

Violet, the eldest, rebels and wants to bring her boyfriend along with her. The twins are delighted at the idea, but shy Whisper starts having problems and goes completely mute quickly. Wolf is stuck in the middle, knowing that the death of honeybees is serious, but not altogether thrilled about what the trip is doing to his family and his future.

Wolf is a very well written, sympathetic character. He is very caring and loyal to his family. Mature enough to realize that not all of his parents’ decisions are sane, yet still young enough to make poor decisions of his own. I liked him right from the beginning. He seems like such a believable, realistic character and really portrays the agony of being old enough to want to do your own thing but still being young enough to have to do what your parents tell you.

What I very much dislike about the book was the parent characters. There is a certain genre of book (I am look at you, Diana Wynne Jones and Lemony Snickett) where the kids tend to have to manoeuvre around stupid adults and draw a lot of their tension from children having to put up with the foolishness and selfishness of their parents and guardians. I do not enjoy these books very much as the unfairness of putting idiots in charge of things infuriated me as a child. Reading about clever children having to do what stupid adults tell them made me see red as a kid and I still carry around the emotional baggage of that hate even now.

While Wolf eventually confronts his parents and manages to convince them that living out of the back of a van and making a shy girl way a bee costume every day in front of strangers is a bad idea, it seems like a fundamental miscarry of justice that a 10 or 12 year old boy would have to make such an effort in the first place. If this book had had another central conflict I would have enjoyed the premise and characters a lot more, but the reality, and reality it is, of many parents being stupid, selfish, irresponsible jerks is not something I like spending my leisure time considering.

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