TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:
Kathe Koja's "Kissing the Bee" struck me as a typical teen coming of age / love story, albeit one with poetic language, a nice grasp of teen speak, and a generous helping of bee imagery and analogies. That's not to say I didn't enjoy the book — I actually did, I swear! — but more that there's nothing here you haven't seen in the bushels of YA novels that deal with love, friendship, and growing up.
Dana is a high school senior who regularly lets her larger than life best friend, Avra, run roughshod over her life. While Avra drinks, smokes, fights with her parents, and generally bounces from one drama to the next, Dana is content to remain safely in the background and cater to Avra's various whims. Dana is by nature a follower, although that doesn't fully explain her behavior. She also has a mad crush on Avra's boyfriend Emil, who is the type of stoic, sensitive, disarmingly genuine, and (of course) hot guy who tends to exist in many teen novels, if not, alas, in real life. Dana connects with Emil in a way that the flighty Avra never will, yet Emil and Avra are the couple. Faced with this reality, Dana is content to torture herself by spending all her free time as the third wheel to Avra and Emil. Ugh.
Although not a spectacular student, Dana excels at science writing. She's even been awarded a scholarship, which is one of many reasons why she won't be joining Avra in her plans to run away on graduation day. Dana's final biology project is a long research paper on bees. The bee information is interesting in itself; even better, author Koja deftly weaves the bee theme throughout the story without having it seem like a flimsy plot device or contrivance.
The story builds to its inevitable conclusion, when Dana finally reaches a point where she must tell Emil how she really feels, with all the messy consequences that decision entails. I very much liked the urgency of these final scenes with Dana, Emil, and Avra, as teen love — well, any love, I guess — often has that desperate, raw quality to it. Although the general story arc here is fairly standard, Koja's poetic language, rich descriptions, and the quiet beauty of this tale make "Kissing the Bee" a novel worth reading. I'd recommend this one to girls in, say, 8th grade and higher.