Thursday, July 22, 2010

Review: Little Bee by Chris Cleave

Most days I wish I was a British pound coin instead of an African girl. Everyone would be pleased to see me coming. [opening of Little Bee]


Little Bee by Chris Cleave
Simon & Schuster, 2008
Fiction; 271 pgs


The inside flap of the book does not offer much in the way of description about what to expect in this novel. The publisher wants it to be a surprise. If you are a regular blog reader, you have likely come across a number of reviews of this book that reveal a bit of the plot. I'd forgotten most of those when I picked up Little Bee to read, and so it was as if I was stepping into the book completely blind. I did, however, remember the mixed reviews. Several bloggers loved the book while others were less than impressed.

I do not think it is revealing too much to say Little Bee is the story of a Nigerian immigrant in England. After spending two years in a detention center, she makes her way to the home of the only people she knows in the country, a couple she met briefly on a beach in Nigeria. The story that unfolds is one of tragedy, about war and grief, shame, regret and courage. It also takes a hard look at immigration policy and the treatment of those seeking asylum. Wrapped in politics, Little Bee is more so a story about the people, about their struggles and life choices and how those choices can have a lasting and reverberating impact on their lives. Told from the perspective of both Little Bee, the sixteen-year old Nigerian girl, and Sarah, the editor/journalist, the story is revealed one layer at a time, traveling between past and present. It is in this way that the author proves he is a master of suspense. I never knew quite what to expect.

I read this book for an online book group discussion. Much was said about the various characters. Everyone loved four year old, Charlie, or Batman as he preferred to be called. He fought invisible bad guys valiantly. His story mirrored that of his parents and Little Bee's in a way, as they themselves had their own demons to fight. Only, his story was one of innocence and hope while his parents and Little Bee's was steeped in betrayal.

Sarah wasn't a very popular character, at times seeming selfish. I actually liked her even if I didn't always agree with her choices in life. She offered a valuable perspective to the story. She is a strong woman and yet vulnerable. Sarah is naive at times and seems to want to do what she feels is right. Like her husband, Andrew, and Little Bee, she is haunted by the past. She tries to put it behind her, only it's never quite out of sight.

Andrew is a character who can easily be criticized for the part he plays in the novel, but I think to do so is short sighted. He is perhaps one of the more outwardly tormented characters of the novel, wishing he had done more, blaming himself for being weak. There is so much I wish I could say here about his character, only I've probably already said more than I should. I will go so far as to say that I think the question of what we might have done on that beach that day if we'd been in Andrew and Sarah's place is not one as easily answered as we might like to think.

My least favorite character in the novel is Lawrence who only seemed out for himself. While I can understand his reservations to wanting to help Little Bee to some small degree, his reasoning paints him as a purely selfish man. There was nothing I liked about Lawrence, nothing I found redeeming in his character.

Of all the characters, it was Little Bee's story that stood out the most, her voice that was most unique and revealing. Little Bee spent her two years imprisoned, mastering the English language and learning about the society she so much wanted to be a part of. Through her eyes, we see the cultural differences that existed between the life she led in Nigeria and the one she is living in the United Kingdom. Despite her efforts to fit in, Little Bee is still seen as an outsider, an interloper, if you will. It was her story that touched me the most. She is intelligent and resourceful. Like the other characters, she is flawed, having made decisions she now regrets.

Little Bee is a powerful novel that tackles very serious issues. It is at times funny while at others it is painful. Chris Cleave does a good job of balancing the light and the serious. For days after finishing the novel, I found myself mulling over the novel's themes, thinking about the characters and wondering what ever became of them.

Ratings: * (Very Good)

For more information about the author and his books, visit his website.

Source: Pulled book off my TBR shelf. Purchased myself.



© 2010, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved.If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

29 comments:

  1. Great review, Wendy! I bought this book because the blurb really intrigued me (and that was before I read the reviews). It's been sitting on my pile for a while; I'm just waiting for the mood to strike. ;) I'm glad to hear you enjoyed reading it!

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  2. I really LOVED this book for some reason. It might even be one of those rare books that get reread by me at some point :) Great review Wendy.

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  3. I remember hearing quite a bit about this book not too long ago but it just never really appealed to me. I do like this cover and I'm glad you enjoyed the story and how it stayed with you once you finished it!

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  4. Great review! I really liked this book as well, and I also agree with you about Lawrence in every way.
    I started the book without knowing anything about it, but I think the back of the book description didn't need to be that secretive. Of course, the hook worked on me, haha!

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  5. Despite the unpopularity of the character, it seems as though it didn't detract from your enjoyment of the book.

    This sounds like a good book for book club discussions...

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  6. I've been intrigued with this book for quite awhile, but for some reason, not enough to pick it up! I've heard good things about it, but if it good enough for me to push aside my current reading pile? That's the question I always ask myself.

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  7. This book really moved me. There is so much to discuss and like you I did like most of the characters, with the exception of Lawrence. Much to think about and had me questioning myself!

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  8. I think I agree with every single thing you said about the book!

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  9. I really enjoyed this book too. It made me think about a lot of things like immigration and oil. Great review.

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  10. I have read a lot of reviews of this book, and some have been filled with a lot of spoilers. Due to that fact, I am not sure if this story would have the same impact on me as it did with others who have gone into it a little more blindly. I still want to get the chance to read it though, as it sounds like a really great book. Thanks for your awesome review, and thanks for not including too many spoilers.

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  11. *sigh*

    I'm sad that I still have 20-something people ahead of me on the library holds list. I wish it would go faster! Excited to read this one.

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  12. *sigh*

    I'm sad that I still have 20-something people ahead of me on the library holds list. I wish it would go faster! Excited to read this one.

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  13. I'll confess to not liking Sarah at all. You mentioned her choices...they seriously bugged me.

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  14. I really enjoyed this book too. It brought up so many issues and managed to be a compelling story at the same time. Great review!

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  15. It seems like this type of "pitch" about a book can really backfire. It would make me expect something pretty darn amazing that I had to keep it secret or you couldn't tell me about it. Yet ... it worked on me as I requested the book from Paperback Swap and plan on finding out for myself what is going on with it.

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  16. I love it when a book stays with me like that. Lovely review, Wendy. I'd really like to read this someday.

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  17. You are such a great review writer! Everything is well thought out and pertinent. You deal with the content of the book so delicately and fairly.

    I've picked this book up quite a few times in the bookstore only to put it down again because I couldn't get a feel for it. After reading your review, however, I feel like I'm ready for it.

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  18. I was ultimately disappointed by this book. The main characters behaved in ways and made choices that I thought were unbelievable within the context of the story. I didn't hate the novel, I just thought it could have been stronger.

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  19. My book club also got a great discussion out of this book!

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  20. Wonderful review Wendy! I love it when a book won't let go long after you turn the page. I'm looking forward to reading this one.

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  21. I'm looking forward to reading this one, even more so after reading your review. I know enough about the book to know that something horrific happens on that beach. I think you are right about none of us being sure how we might act in those same circumstances and I appreciate your honest and insightful (as always) review.

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  22. Nice review Wendy. I have this book to read hopefully coming up this month or next. I've heard mixed opinions on it so I'm glad to see you enjoyed it. I hope I will too.

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  23. I was not so into this book, but I thought telling the story from both Little Bee's and Sarah's points of view worked well. Multiple narrators often confuse me, but with this story, I think it was necessary.

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  24. Looks like you enjoyed this one more than me, Wendy...I think I was expecting more because of the marketing tactic, and so ended up being a bit disappointed...although I did love Charlie :)

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  25. I can't wait to have the time to read this one!

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  26. Hi Wendy, I think one of the things that made me love reading so much is that I find I'm not alone and never will be. I am able to relate so much to the characters, sometimes, that I feel relieved and comforted. I laughed and I cried reading a book and people would never understand why I feel the way I felt. I think we all have made decisions that we regretted at some point of our lives. I definitely want to read this. Thanks for the review!

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  27. I've read the mixed reviews too and wasn't sure this would appeal to me. I like how you takled each character intead of plot points. Guess it's time to add it to my wish list.

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  28. Books that make me think days after reading the book really satisfy me. Glad this one has that potential. Like you said, I have heard so many mixed views.

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  29. Thank you everyone for your wonderful comments! I'm playing catch up at the moment and, unfortunately, unable to respond to you one at a time.

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