Bee Season Book Group Guide

  1. Eliza Naumann has “been designated…as a student from whom great things should not be expected” [p.1]. How does Myla Goldberg use both humor and poignancy to bring home the impact of this judgment on an eleven-year-old child? Does Eliza accept her “mediocrity” without question? What evidence is there that she resents (or is frustrated by) the way the teachers and other students, as well as her own family, perceive her?
  2. Why does Eliza slip the information about the district spelling bee under Saul’s door, rather than telling him about it [p. 8]? Is her behavior unusual for an eleven-year-old? How do Aaron’s and Saul’s reactions to Eliza’s winning the district bee and moving on to the Nationals [p. 43] shed light on Eliza’s own feelings about the significance of her newly discovered talent?
  3. Initially, Saul is presented as an involved and caring father. What hints are there in the book that his interest in his children’s lives masks a need to satisfy his own ego? How does his relationship with Miriam enhance the image he has created for himself? Is Miriam in some ways a victim of Saul’s determination to take the primary role in the family or is she equally responsible for the pattern they have established? In what ways do the dynamics of Naumanns’ marriage reflect the times in which they live?
  4. Before the depth of Miriam’s problem is revealed, how do you respond to her as a character? Does her ostensible involvement with work and the way she treats her children make her a “bad” mother? What incidents, if any, demonstrate that at some level she wants to express her love for Eliza and Aaron?
  5. Are the interactions between Aaron and Eliza typical of sibling relationships? Are they closer than most brothers and sisters? If so, what contributes to their closeness? In what ways might they be different if they were only children? At what point does the pattern they have established begin to change?
  6. “Saul Naumann spends the first portion of his life as Sal Newman, son of Henry and Lisa Newman, decorator of Christmas trees and Easter eggs” [p. 10]. When he embraces Judaism as a teen-ager under his mother’s guidance, Saul becomes estranged from his father. What effect does Saul’s childhood have on how he approaches parenting and the goals he sets for Aaron? As the only child of a wealthy couple who wanted a large family, Miriam is raised to fulfill all her parents’ expectations. What does Saul offer her that her own parents were unable to provide? Goldberg writes “the two bond over their mutual lack of family ties” [p.22]. How do their assumptions about marriage and, later, their behavior with Eliza and Aaron belie the notion that they are free of the legacies of their own parents?