"When you spend as much time watching folks looking at my diamond as I do, you can tell what's inside of them without looking too deep. It's like knowing what's in a bologna sandwich without lifting the bread.
"Pauline tells me I have a sixth sense, like a gift you get when one of your other senses is missing. 'Like when you can't see, your hearing is really good, Bee, or when your hearing is gone, your heart is big.' We are lying on our mattresses in the back of our hauling truck. She is writing in her little notebook.
"The shine from the moon is peeking into the truck. 'Or when you can see somebody other folks can't?' I whisper.
"Pauline knows I am talking about the old lady in the orange floppy hat. She has been showing up since my mama and papa's funeral. Now that I am older and getting teased, she comes more often. She is sure to appear on the days that truly are very, very bad, the days when a boy says, 'What's the matter, did you get burned all over your face?' or when a mama tells her girls to stay away from me. Those are the days she comes.
"Pauline does not like me talking about the lady in the orange floppy hat. I think it's because Pauline can't see her, and I do wonder why that is. 'Stop talking fairy tales,' she tells me, rolling over."
Bee's "diamond" is the large birthmark on her face. As she tells us, "My diamond stretches from my eyebrow to under my cheek. It is a map of all my heartache."
Seven years ago, when she was four and her parents died in a traffic accident, Bee insisted on staying with her young protector Pauline and the carnival run by Ellis, for which her mother had operated the hot dog wagon. This is Bee's home. But now it is 1942, America is at war, there is wartime rationing, and things are tough on the carnival circuit. Ellis would like a stay-put operation. He is also waiting impatiently for the day when he can use Bee and her diamond as a sideshow attraction.
When Ellis begins setting his plans into motion, it leads to Bee fleeing with Peabody -- the stray dog she's furtively taken in -- and Cordelia, the runt piglet Bee adores, that is part of one of the carnival's acts.
This is when the story takes an amazing left turn. After running down random streets with dog and piglet in tow, Bee ends up at a very strange house at which the lady with the orange floppy hat turns out to be one of two elderly women residents. As the story progresses, it amused me to no end that the old lady is named Mrs. Potter.
"When he gets tired of biscuits, Mrs. Potter goes over and looks at the wall by the stove. Then she limps down to the basement and comes back with a big ax.
"'I know it was right here,' she says, looking at the wall. Then she swings and whacks at the wall, sending wall dust all up and over my pot of mashed potatoes."
There is a full measure of comedy here, folded in with a dollop of women's history, and ammunition for a serious debate about the best way of serving special needs students. There is also a major thread about bullying, the question of whether revenge is sweet or toxic, and whether or not Bee is right in her belief that "When you spend as much time watching folks looking at my diamond as I do, you can tell what's inside of them without looking too deep,"
BEHOLDING BEE is a fun and satisfying coming of age story about a girl searching for home and family.
Read Alikes: The Wonder of Charlie Anne, Tangle of Knots, Here Today, Center of Everything,
Instructor, San Jose State University, California USA
School of Library and Information Science http://slisweb.sjsu.edu/people/faculty/partingtonr/partingtonr.php