Saturday, May 15, 2010

Little Bee by Chris Cleave

This is the hardest book review I've ever written. I'm actually kind of afraid to write it. Why? Because here is what it says on the inside book jacket:

We don't want to tell
WHAT HAPPENS in this book.

It is a truly SPECIAL STORY
and we don't want to spoil it.

NEVERTHELESS, you need to know
enough to buy it, so we will
just say this:

It then goes on to give a very brief summary of the story and then is says this:

Once you have read it, you'll want to tell your friends about it. When you do, please don't tell them what happens. The magic is in how the story unfolds.

Wow, if that doesn't grab your attention, I'm not sure what will. Actually, I do know. When two friends, whose opinions I trust recommended the book to me, I decided to find out what the big mystery was for myself. And you know what, I have absolutely no idea. None! I'm worried that maybe I missed something. I was expecting some sort of Sixth Sense or The Others type of story. You know, something that if you tell others it ruins the story for them. And I did not find that to be the case. So I'm confused. And a little bit afraid to write a review that includes a summary. What if I just missed something?

So, be warned, I am going to summarize the story in the next few paragraphs. So don't read them, if you are worried about being spoiled simply be learning the basic plot of the story. But before I do that, just let me say this - I think the publisher/editor/author/whoever did this book a big disservice by writing that blurb. I felt disappointed and a little cheated when the story did not live up to it's "promise" (for lack of a better word), . I found myself forming my opinion of Little Bee based on the fact that it didn't deliver a big surprise, instead of on the merits of the story itself. When I took a step back and tried to objectively evaluate the story (which was very hard, I might add), I realized it's actually a pretty good story. But I didn't feel that way upon finishing it. Instead I felt frustrated, tricked and confused. So, if the topic of the story interests you, by all means, read it. But if you are tempted to read it to be wowed by some clever plot device, I'd say don't waste your time.

OK, my summary is coming up now. So you may want to stop reading.

Little Bee by Chris Cleave tells the story of Sarah O'Rourke a British journalist and Little Bee a 14 year old Nigerian girl whose village is the scene of terrible violence due to the discovery of oil there. Sarah and her husband Andrew travel to Nigeria for a vacation and while on the beach, they encounter Little Bee and her sister, Nkiruka. The sisters are running away from the violence in their village. This encounter will have far reaching ramifications for all involved.
The story picks up two years later when Little Bee is released from a detention center in Britain and finds her way to Sarah and Andrew's home in the English countryside. Much of the story deals with the slow uncovering of the facts of what happened on the beach and of Little Bee's experiences during the intervening two years.

The strength of Little Bee lies in the story of Little Bee's life in her Nigerian village and how different life can be in more volatile parts of the world. It's not something most of us here in America can even fathom. And that is exactly what happens to Sarah and Andrew. They are forced to confront the reality of Little Bee's life and deal with their own impotence in the face of this great injustice. And on these merits, Little Bee is a good story. Cleave does a good job of slowly unveiling the story to keep reader interest high. It reads almost like a suspense novel. It is a quick read and in parts it is a page turner. I have such mixed feelings about this book due to my unmet expectations. But when think about Little Bee objectively, it really is a good story.
I would give Little Bee 3 STARS - I liked it.

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