Quill and Quire

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In Spite of Killer Bees

by Julie Johnston

Aggie, Helen, and Jeannie Quade lurch into tiny Port Desire, Ontario, in a broken-down car, convinced they’re going to whirl right out as millionaires, courtesy of their late grandfather, one of Canada’s wealthiest men. The sisters are counting on the cash: Helen wants to go to university, Jeannie to New York and a fabulous career, and Aggie wants to find the mother who abandoned them seven years ago. But wily Grandpa, trying to mend past wrongs, hasn’t left the girls any money. Instead, hoping to mend rifts in the family from beyond the grave, he’s willed them the family manse on condition that his spinster sister, Lily, moves in with them. But it doesn’t look especially promising – Port Desire isn’t exactly holding out a welcoming hand, Lily is convinced the Quade sisters are imposters, and Helen and Jeannie are looking for the first chance to hightail it out of town.

Julie Johnston’s extraordinary new novel, In Spite of Killer Bees, is totally different in tone from her earlier ones, Hero of Lesser Causes, Adam and Eve and Pinch Me (both Governor General’s Award winners), and The Only Outcast. A wacky Thelma-and-Louise-style road story, it’s also a sensitively moving chronicle of relationships between fathers and sons and mother and daughters and a satisfying portrait of three young women on the cusp of finding themselves. Johnston has created an exuberant novel that simply whips readers into the midst of these unforgettable characters and their crisis. In particular, the hilarious little details, such as Aggie’s fashion forays and Aunt Lily’s passion for breadmaking, make this fine fiction.