Little Bee

Little Bee
by Chris Cleeve (2009-01-28)
Little Bee, Simon & Schuster, Inc. Kindle Edition.
2009 / 224 pgs / rating 7 

This is one of those instances where I started a book and really did NOT think I would like it one little bit.  I tried the Audible version and the Kindle version – both were not at all what I thought I wanted to read so  I passed.  Several months later,  another reading group selected it and I gave it another try.  I waited.  I just couldn’t see myself reading it. I waited.  Then a couple weeks before the discussion I read that first Kindle sample bit again and got hooked.  Go figure.

A 14 year-old girl nick-named Little Bee bides her time in a detention facility for undocumented aliens near London.  Meanwhile,  the couple she met on a Nigerian beach,   Sarah and Andrew O’Rourke, are living out some marital difficulties in their exclusive home in suburban London.  The circumstances under which this girl and the O’Rourke’s met is background and what the future could possibly hold for them comprises the plot as it unwinds and goes back and forth between past and present,  sometimes catching up and elaborating on bits of the present which weren’t exactly clear the first time round.

Their worlds could not be more different.  Where Little Bee has been running for her life from some seriously bad guys, Sarah and Andrew have been having a few marital difficulties while their 4 year-old son, Charlie, pretends he is Batman and goes after imaginary “baddies.”  But everybody wears masks and scars of one sort or another in this story.

"I ask you right here please to agree with me that a 
scar is never ugly. That is  what the scar makers want
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."
 

In places the writing is just downright beautiful –

"Who says a Nigerian girl must speak in fallen English, 
as if English had collided with Ibo,  high in the upper 
atmosphere, and rained down into her mouth in a shower 
that half-drowns her and leaves her choking up sweet tales 
about the bright African colors and the taste of fried 
plantain?"
 

This is a story of what would you do,  for whom would you give your life, and why?  Where do we belong – and why?   It’s short and a page-turner.  I read  almost all of it in one sitting, fell asleep and woke to read the final  chapter.   The story is based on real events although all the characters and specific incidents are fictitious. There have been many glowing reviews and it’s received a good many prize nominations.

New York Times

Chris Cleave

Washington Post

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