March 23rd, 2010


Book Review: Little Bee

I feel like I have hit the book-reading jackpot this past month. Another book has found its way to my blog: Little Bee by Chris Cleave. I mentioned it previously when I discussed titles for books. In the UK the book goes by The Other Hand. I honestly think that is the better title after reading this book. This book . . . this book . . . within the first 5 pages I wanted to be a better writer. Within the first 20 pages I wanted to be a better storyteller. Within the first 125 pages I wanted to be a better person.


The story is told by two women who are unequivocally different. Little Bee is from a small annihilated village in Nigeria. Sarah Summer O’Rourke is from Kingston-upon-Thames. Their fates intertwine one hot summer day in Africa. A decision is made that changes them forever. I will not tell you more than that because I don’t want to spoil the story for you.


Chris Cleave brilliantly sculpted two independent women. He used different vocabulary, sentence structure, and speech rhythm to create two powerful voices. I do believe Little Bee’s voice contained more strength. Given her life experiences, however, her voice should possess more wisdom and strength. Despite their differences—and there are many--you cannot deny their similarities.


Chris Cleave infuses his story with powerful imagery and dialogue. I felt like I had stumbled across an oasis in the dessert. I drank in his words with such need and frenzy. I starred and underlined words and passages such as: “We must see all scars as beauty. Okay? This will be our secret. Because take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying. A scar means, I survived.” I reread pages because I wanted to, yearned to. I realized I felt sad fifty pages in because I was reading this story about grief, love, and immigration on my own. I wanted and needed to talk to someone about it.


I started this review before I read the final thirty pages. In most books I’m running breathlessly to the end, begging for that cathartic release and closure. I had to pause. I did not want it to end. I knew it would leave me wanting more. And I was right, the ending is ambiguous. I’m not sure I embrace it completely.


I don’t want to leave you with the impression that the book is flawless. There were moments when I paused and questioned the plausibility of someone’s perception, reaction or ignorance. Yet, those moments did not overpower the story’s message or the beauty of the writing.


I am telling you, you must read this story.