Read my other 2018 Caudill reviews.

Hour of the Bees feels like a book in the magical realism genre with family folklore mixed in.

This book addresses the angst that comes with teens experiencing cultural duality. All of the Hispanic kids at school change their Spanish names by shortening them into American ones and rely on buying the latest material possessions in style. Twelve-year-old Carolina calls herself Carol and just wants to hang out with her friends for the summer at the pool and sleeping over. She’s upset that she and her family have to drive to her grandfather’s ranch in New Mexico and help move him out because he has dementia. She has never met him before, she doesn’t really know what dementia is other than what the nursing home pamphlet says, and her dad doesn’t even seem to like his own father. Plus, there will be no TV, internet, air conditioning and spotty phone service. And her older half-sister is kind of a jerk. She only cares about herself, won’t help with chores, and is always reminding Carol that they aren’t all the way related and it’s not her grandpa they have to take care of.

But Grandpa Serge tells these wild stories and Carol can’t tell if he’s hallucinating, making things up or if his dementia is getting worse. Carol is drawn to the stories that oddly have a very close similarity to her family. He talks about a magic tree and he points to the black tree stump out in the fields. He talks about a sheepherder named Sergio and he is a sheepherder with the same name. He talks about Sergio’s wife, Rosa, and keeps calling Carol Rosa and mixing the stories. Is it dementia or something more magical? As their relationship grows, Carol starts to side with her grandpa instead of her cranky family.

Grandpa wants her to stop denying her roots and take back the name Carolina. He wants her to rescue him from the nursing home the family is going to send him to. He wants her to tell him when she sees bees, even though there haven’t been any around in 100 years until now. The bees are supposed to bring the rain (and magic and relief) back to the ghost town where the ranch is the only thing left standing. The bees are supposed to bring the dried up lake bed back to life. But Carolina’s family thinks Serge’s crazy with dementia and there is some rift between Serge and her father that she can’t figure out yet.

I originally had an advanced copy of this book, read ten pages and was bored. Did I mention I hate bees? Then it made its way to the Caudill list and I gave it another try. It was amazing! I loved the heartwarming relationship between Carolina and her grandpa. I loved how Serge told his stories and they started to make their way into reality. I loved how the family came together to support each other even though they are all very different. I loved the eventual character development (it was delayed for a reason). The only part I didn’t like was that Carol was not afraid of the bees that followed her around. I would have been running down the block at first sight, yikes. But, that’s a personal problem.

Although not exactly similar, and more of a straight up fantasy that sometimes feels like magical realism, I feel like people who liked The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill would also like this book, although more modern and a different setting. Speaking of setting, I love when the setting is strongly tied to the book’s plot, like these two novels are.