This is quite long delay, but my work book club had a quick little discussion of Barbara Kingsolver’s book The Bean Trees that I want to share with you all. You can read the review I wrote of the book here. I gave this one a full five out of five.
The other ladies agreed with me that the book had a delightfully strong voice. A lot of Taylor’s personality came out in the way she spoke. We didn’t get to know Lou Ann as well because her portion was narrated in the third person. When we were first introduced to her character, one woman really wondered how they would come together, being so far apart geographically and having so little in common. Well, we came to find out very quickly.
We liked all of the characters, even the smaller characters. A favorite was Taylor’s mother. She was a strong woman to raise Taylor on her own and she was a good mother and still let Taylor be herself. It was sad that Taylor wanted to leave so badly, but it was good that her mother let her chase that dream.
We thought Lou Ann had a very non-traditional approach to family. She had a strained relationship with her mother, who had a bad relationship with her mother-in-law. However, Lou Ann loved her ex-husband’s family because they mutually disliked her ex-husband. It wasn’t really a surprise that her character would so easily accept Taylor and Turtle into her extended family.
Matti was a great character as well. She was very brave to do what she did and even braver to be so outspoken about it. She was a good person at heart and it was her warmheartedness that led to her breaking the law.
My very own Turtle, Jane.
Turtle was a good name to give Turtle/April. We know Taylor gave it to her because she was grabby, but she was also in her own shell a lot of the time. (As a side note, not all turtles are afraid of everything all the time. This is my turtle, Jane. She’s very outgoing.) She was able to be pulled out of her shell gradually so that she wasn’t afraid all the time. But can you really blame the girl? I don’t.
One of the other women pointed out that Taylor was very passive aggressive, which I hadn’t noticed the first time through. When someone handed her a child, she didn’t object. I’m not sure you can get more passive aggressive than that. There were other times when she didn’t fight back against what was happening to her; when she realized she loved Estevan, when she was initially uncomfortable with the relationship with Lou Ann, etc. What changed her was when she might lose Turtle. She couldn’t stand that thought.
We found it strange that there was no concern over money in the book. Lou Ann and Taylor are both making minimum wage (or there about) but don’t seem to worry about what they can buy or how they’ll pay rent. I make more than minimum wage and I still worry about that stuff! I wish I had their confidence.
One woman in our group made a comment about how much violence there was in the book and I hadn’t noticed it until she said something. It was all implied violence, none of it really happened in the plot of the novel. There was the death by tire explosion, the murders and kidnappings that chased Estevan and Esperanza out of their country, and there was Turtle’s implied abusive background. I liked that Kingsolver kept the violence in the background so it wasn’t a focus, but it was used to move the plot along.
We also found a lot of religious satire in the book. Jesus is Lord Used Tires was kind of funny in name, but the place itself was a haven for the refugees. They were some of the most religious people in the whole book. When Taylor saw the 1-800-THE-LORD phone number, she thought it was going to be somewhere she could turn to and get answers, but it turned out to be a fundraiser. The characters found religion in very unexpected places.
The event we talked about the most was the adoption scenes. Reading about Esperanza giving Turtle away was so hard to read because of what it put Esperanza through. It was a lot for Taylor to ask of her new friends. It was almost as if Esperanza was loosing her daughter twice. I asked if it might have been therapeutic, but we agreed it wasn’t. Turtle even looked like their daughter, which only makes things worse.
Ultimately, was the adoption the right thing to do? We think that there were a lot of other things Taylor should have tried first. There were relatives somewhere, even if the mother was dead. The woman who gave Turtle to Taylor could have been a surviving relative. Speaking of that, Taylor might have tried resisting the child in the beginning. If someone hands me their kid, I think I’d ask a few more questions. Mattie might have been helpful in locating her parents, she seemed to have some good connections. However, the adoption is what was best for Turtle. It gave Taylor a purpose, too, and the two of them were a great team.
The adoption was a big step for Taylor’s character. In the beginning, she resisted the non-nuclear family she was forming with Lou Ann, thinking that it somehow meant less because they weren’t related. But the non-nuclear families in this book were the strongest. Taylor left her mother behind, but not Taylor. Lou Ann’s ex-in-laws loved her more than their son. And the closest relationships were friendships.
The next book we’re reading together is Attachments by Rainbow Rowell, which I’ve just started. We’ll be talking about it in the new year.
Until next time, write on.
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