Little Bee: A Novel by Chris Cleave

Little Bee

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I finished Little Bee last night, another book from my Rainbow Cover Reading Challenge.  This is the book that had a very non-specific blurb on the back, so I had no idea what to expect.  My review will give away some of the plot, so stop reading now if you’d rather not know before reading it for yourself.

How to start?  This story is about a married couple and how their lives intersect with that of a young Nigerian girl.  Something quite horrific happens on a Nigerian beach, and it changes the course of all of their lives.  Fast-forward a couple of years, and Little Bee, the Nigerian girl, finds her way into this family’s life once again.  Tragedy strikes again, and the two women must find a way to uphold and help one another.

Towards the end of the book things seem as if they will turn out alright, but we’re left with a sinking feeling at the end of the book.  I can’t give you a lot of details because that will totally ruin the plot line for you, even though I really do want to discuss it in more depth.

The characters in this story are great!  Just when you think you have somebody figured out, you find out that there is another facet to their personality.  It’s never a question of who is good and who is bad.  It’s a matter of which traits they are displaying at any given time.

The writing itself alternates between the two main female characters.  This is a really nice literary device that helps the reader see the story from different angles and gain understanding about what makes each character tick.

I also like how the story explores the theme of illegal immigration, refugees and detention centers in the UK.  The author stated that the inspiration for this novel came from the real-life story of an illegal immigrant from Angola.  When he and his son were going to be deported back to their country, the father hanged himself so that his son wouldn’t be sent back (according to a law in the UK, which prevents unaccompanied minors from being deported).

I had one nitpick about the story, when it comes to the part where they are driving around Nigeria.  (My husband lived there for several years and I visited there for about a month.) It says that the women would leave their hotel in the morning, drive into the south and return to their hotel at night.  First, driving in Nigeria is not that simple.  It might be okay in Abuja, but once you get outside of a large city, the roads can be quite treacherous and slow-going.  It’s also not feasible that they could simply drive around where ever they wanted.  They were not accompanied by a man (asking for trouble), and there are actually checkpoints along the roads which are manned by soldiers.  So, that part of the story wasn’t very accurate.  Not a major issue, but it just stood out to me.

A favorite quote:

“On the girl’s brown legs there were many small white scars.  I was thinking, Do those scars cover the whole of you, like the stars and the moons on your dress?  I thought that would be pretty too, and I ask you right here please to agree with me that a scar is never ugly.  That is what the scar maker wants us to think.  But you and I, we must make an agreement to defy them.  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.”  (p. 9)

I would recommend this book to adults who enjoy exploring social justice issues through the medium of a fictional work.  Sometimes that’s a good way to look at difficult issues. You know it isn’t a real person you have to pity, but you still get the underlying social message that the book is trying to convey.

Possible Objections:

  • Some violence
  • Some language
  • Some sexual themes

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…