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In my ongoing battle with insomnia, I’ve been reading for at least 20 minutes before bed. Most nights it helps: I know I’m ready to go to sleep when I started dropping my book in my face!
I’ve learned I can’t read anything too spooky before bed (hence why I try to read the scarier chapters of Marissa Meyer’s Scarlet during the day), nor do I want to wreak anymore havoc on my sleep cycle by reading Harry Potter & The Sorcerer’s Stone or The Rise of Kylo Ren on my phone (blue light, apparently, tricks your brain into thinking it’s time to wake up). So my nighttime reading actually consists of the stories I can’t write, but love to read: contemporary and historical novels!
The Enlightenment of Bees* by Rachel Linden, recommended to me by my dear friend Caroline, is the perfect right-before-bed sort of story. It’s hilarious, compelling, and absolutely darling. And to my surprise, it even spoke to some of the hurt places in my own heart.
The Enlightenment of Bees* is the story of 26-year-old Mia, an apprentice baker in Seattle with dreams of settling down with her longtime boyfriend, Ethan. When Ethan gets cold feet in the middle of proposing marriage, however, a brokenhearted Mia finds herself with no plans and, seemingly, no future. In her desperate need to get away, she joins her best friend Rosie on a humanitarian trip around the world, making new friends along the way and learning what it means to make a true impact on the world.
Mia is an utterly relatable heroine: a little awkward and intensely creative, she both craves and fears adventure. She never really had any ambitions beyond marrying Ethan and raising “a little curly-haired girl and a blond boy with a dimple in his cheek”–beautiful and valid dreams, to be sure! But when those dreams are obliterated, Mia isn’t quite sure what to do with herself.
What she does know (or thinks she knows) is that her real passion, baking, is hardly worth seriously pursuing. As her philanthropic aunt sternly instructed her as a child, she needed “to aim higher.” Baking won’t change the world, so why develop that skill?
Mia’s brother, however, encourages her to “start with the dreams [she] had before Ethan.” And since those dreams always involved travel, Mia seizes a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do some “real work.”
But “real work” isn’t what she expected. “Real work” consists of showing simple kindness to children in India. “Real work” means dressings the wounds of Syrian refugees in a camp just outside of Budapest. Nor is she quite prepared for her growing attraction to her very fine, very kind (and also Hawaiian) fellow worker, Kai. But in spite of emotional confusion, unexpected detours, hair-raising rickshaw rides, and riots, Mia slowly regains her confidence. And as her compassion is stirred by the downtrodden and courageous souls she meets along the way, she soon realizes that her purpose lies in “the space where [her] greatest passion meets the world’s great pain.”
I hardly ever cry for books, but this one brought tears to my eyes more than once. So often I’ve felt like Mia, afraid that my small life and my art don’t really matter much in the grand scheme of things. But I, too, am making peace with the way my life has unfolded. It doesn’t look anything like I once thought it would. But I’m learning that “for the moment it is enough to just be here, just be me”–and that God has an uncanny knack for revealing exactly how to use my own gifts to meet the world’s pain.
I really can’t overstate how much I enjoyed The Enlightenment of Bees*. It was an easy and thoroughly enjoyable read, full of vivid settings, scrumptious food, and sympathetic, diverse characters. From punk musician Winnie to formidable French-Tunisian doctor Delphine, from vivacious West Texan Rosie to Coptic refugees Yousef and Maryam, Mia finds herself with quite the cohort of unlikely friends. But it also has a heartwarming and important message. As Delphine tells Mia in a moment of quiet companionship:
It’s true, a cookie is a small thing, but many small things make the world a brighter and happier place, do they not?
So enjoy the small things this week, dear friends. They truly are the stuff of life.