“Little Bee” by Chris Cleave

This month’s selection for one of my book groups, Chris Cleave’s Little Bee was recommended highly out there in the litosphere. And my expectations may have negatively influenced my reading experience. I wanted to love it, but I didn’t.

The cover information is curiously cryptic:

We don’t want to tell you 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:

This is the story of two women. Their lives collide one fateful day, and one of them has to make a terrible choice, the kind of choice we hope you never have to face. Two years later, they meet again–the story starts there…

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.

Puffery, is what they call this kind of hyperbole in advertising. Do I want to tell my friends about this book? Not really. I found it good, not great. I’m more likely to urge The Imperfectionists or The Magicians on them.

I’m not going to tell you what happens, as that’s not what I do in my book reviews anyway. My approach is to tell you just enough about the book and my reaction to it for you to get a sense of yes/no/maybe you want to read it.

The two women are Little Bee, a girl from Nigeria, and Sarah, an English working mother. There’s not one, but several moments of fateful decisions. Many of their scenes together were moving and strong. The book opens with Little Bee in a refugee concentration camp in England. As for how it unfolds, the author does do a good job of spinning out the tale out of sequence, which is, as Little Bee would say, a good trick.

The author’s intent to publicize the unjust camps is a good one, and is overall effective. Also good are many scenes between characters, and some of the psychological characterizations. But one of the characters does something near the end of the book so unbelievable it pushed me right out of the book. And at times the book has an after-school special feel to it, though much darker. For a similar subject and a better, IMO, execution, rent the little known and under-appreciated The Visitor.

I found Little Bee’s premise good, and some of the book very good, but there were many times the characters felt like thin blankets, and the plot felt herky-jerky. In this, it reminded me of The Help, which I also liked but didn’t love. It’s possible, though, that my skepticism of them was sharpened by the overwhelming hype they’ve received from fans and critics. For me, Little Bee was good, eye-opening, often moving, but not consistently excellent for me.

One Response to ““Little Bee” by Chris Cleave”

  1. Amy Says:

    I’m one of those who loved it, but I read it quite a while ago, before I saw much blog buzz about it, so I didn’t go into it with expectations. That’s a tough thing, to pick up a book you’ve heard so much hype about. I agree that the back cover was annoying.

    Now, Jennifer Johnson is Sick of Being Single–loved it. We’ll have to discuss. I just finished it last night.