Thursday, September 15, 2011

Review: The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver

Reviewed by Meagan
Published: 1988
It's about: Marietta Greer was born and raised in rural Kentucky, but her plan is to get out as soon as she can. Unlike most of the girls her age, she avoids getting pregnant, gets herself a good job, and finally saves up enough money to buy an old VW Bug. She hits the road, changes her name to "Taylor" after one of the towns she passes through, and proceeds to drive across the country.
The car is, of course, unreliable, and through a series of breakdowns, Taylor's life is changed forever. In the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, she is given a young toddler girl by a woman claiming to be the child's aunt. Not knowing what else to do, Taylor takes her on the road. She discovers the girl (whom she names "Turtle" because of her penchant for grabbing at anything within her reach) has been abused and become fiercely protective of her.
The two eventually break down in Tuscon, Arizona and begin to build a life and create a family of characters including another Kentucky transplant, the female owner of the Jesus is Lord Used Tires store, and a Guatemalan couple seeking political asylum. Together this unexpected group explores themes of family, life, death, beauty, friendship, hope, and love.

I thought: In all honesty, I was a little underwhelmed by this book. I didn't know at the time I read this that it was Barbara Kingsolvers's first book, and had I known that, I might have been a little less critical when comparing this novel to her other works. You can definitely see the seeds of future greatness here, but they haven't blossomed yet. The story was mildly entertaining, and there were some interesting issues explored, but overall I felt it was patched together a little roughly and there was inexplicably too much going on while nothing really happened. (I know that doesn't make a lot of sense but maybe if you read it it will?).
Verdict: Stick it on the shelf or Rubbish Bin? Rubbish Bin. I feel bad saying that, but I definitely didn't find it shelf worthy and don't feel the need to ever revisit it. Maybe read it if you want to see Kingsolver at the start of her career.  I didn't feel like it was a waste of time to read it, but I would definitely recommend almost every other Kingsolver book to this one

Reading Recommendations: None.
Warnings: There are a few thematic elements of abuse, but nothing overt or graphic.
Favorite excerpts:
"There was a cactus with bushy arms and a coat of yellow spines as thick as fur. A bird had built her nest in it. In and out she flew among the horrible spiny branches, never once hesitating. You just couldn't imagine how she'd made a home in there."

"Hughes Walter was no Kentucky boy. He was from out of state, from some city college up north, which was why, everyone presumed, his name was backwards."

"To keep ourselves from going crazy with boredom we tried to think of word games. I told about the secretary named Jewel with the son who sees things backwards, and we tried to think of words he would like. Esperanza though of ala, which means wing. Estevan knew whole sentences, some in Spanish and some in English. The English ones were "A man, a plan, a canal: Panama!" (which he said was a typical gringo way of looking at that endeavor), and "Able was I ere I saw Elba," which was what Napoleon supposedly said when he was sent into exile. I hadn't known, before then, where or what Elba was. I'd had a vague idea that it was a kind of toast."

What I'm reading next: I Am The Messenger by Marcus Zusak