Articles, Reviews

Beggar Bee Nameless review

By Hannah Willey

Beggar Bee Nameless follows two characters: Red, a teenage boy who runs away from home, and Shane, the Deceased Affairs Officer assigned to determine his identity after his death. During the case, Shane becomes emotionally invested in finding justice for Red. This leads to an unsettling – but at times heart-warming – story about society’s approach to homelessness.

Stephen K Easterbrook’s subject of homelessness is not a common one I’ve come across in books, making it all the more powerful. For instance, the perspective Gracie, a homeless woman, gives (that homelessness can be a choice – that a home can be a prison) was a narrative unfamiliar to me. This unfamiliarity didn’t stop my connection with the characters, though, all of whom have an increasing number of dimensions the further you read. I loved how Easterbrook gradually revealed the characters’ trauma, never letting it define them, especially with Gracie and Bartholomew. Red somewhat idolises them; therefore, finding these discoveries difficult, but ultimately these discussions of the past allow for stronger human connections in the book. Amidst a largely sad story, I loved these moments in which humans used their sadness to support others.

The book was thoughtful and reverent, considering the significance of life and death, making it thought-provoking. Easterbrook is also thoughtful in observing ordinary concepts, such as perceiving the “shifts between fullness and emptiness” in a squirrel’s eye in the earlier pages.

The cutting between Shane and Red’s narrative voices worked well, especially due to the time jump between them. Fragments of Red’s story are revealed through Shane’s investigation, increasing the mystery, a dynamic working as successfully as it did in Delia Owens’ Where the Crawdads Sing. The subtle connections between the voices draw the book together and ensure the bi-vocal story isn’t too disjointed. For instance, Red’s severed thumb upon his death seems to induce Shane to want to do the same. As she plans to talk with Ryan, Shane’s cliffhanger matches Red’s: though we know what eventually happens to him, we never find out how he gets there.

Though these connections made the novel fluent, at points, some characters or circumstances felt incomplete or unexplored. Melanie, for example, seemed to have little bearing on the narrative after being given a namesake chapter and narrative attention in the earlier passages. The difficulties and tensions within Shane’s relationship with Ryan were also left unfinished, with Ryan barely appearing in the book. Red’s abusive upbringing was hardly explained beyond his parents not paying attention to him, making his story feel incomplete. However, this is, in a way, the point. While Gracie’s childhood is an example of extreme physical abuse, Red’s experiences highlight how a home doesn’t have to be violent or aggressive to be abusive.

Admittedly, I enjoyed that the novel had so many elements that were hard to pin down or define. Part of Shane’s crisis working as DAO seems to manifest from a developing resentment for simplified facts instead of prioritising her emotional sympathies. Similarly, Easterbrook doesn’t seem to want everything explained or reduced to such facts.

Beggar, Bee, Nameless was a great read, confronting the uncomfortable and touching the heart as characters find allegiance among death and devastation. It gave a voice to those who – at least in other books I’ve read – have been voiceless, which always makes for a brilliant book.

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