"Jacob Stevenson had the tallest mohawk in the history of Hood River Valley High School."
With that opening line, Eileen Garvin helps set the scene of her debut novel, The Music of Bees. The massively mohawked Jacob is just one of the winning protagonists of Garvin's book, and he meets one of the others, Alice Holtzman, after she nearly hits his speeding wheelchair as she returns to her small rural home outside town with a new batch of bees for her home hives. The near-accident spawns an unlikely friendship between the teenage Jake and the widowed Alice, one that also welcomes a friendly 24-year-old drifter named Harry who applies to work on Alice's hives when he hits town.
The development of the trio's relationship, each of them traumatized by events in their recent and not-so-recent past, is genuinely uplifting, and the arrival of a bee-threatening pesticide company in town raises the stakes in Garvin's story beyond overcoming their individual challenges. Readers will even learn quite a bit about beekeeping along the way.
Garvin, a Spokane native, first made a critical and commercial splash a decade ago with her nonfiction book How To Be A Sister, in which she recounted reconnecting with her sister, who has autism, upon returning to the Pacific Northwest after years away. With The Music of Bees, Garvin shows that the skills so adept in conveying that heavy emotional terrain are just as sharp in delivering a winning novel.