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Book Review: The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver (5/5).

16 Dec

This is one of those titles I picked up because I felt like it. I saw it at a library used book sale and having read one of Kingsolver’s other books, decided to give it a try. I wasn’t expecting much because I thought The Poisonwood Bible was a little long-winded and got dry (yes, I know this is not a popular opinion). However, this one was shorter and I thought ‘what the heck.’ Then I proposed it to my work book club and they thought, ‘what the heck.’ So what the heck, we read it.

Cover Image via

Cover Image via

The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver

Summary from Goodreads:

Clear-eyed and spirited, Taylor Greer grew up poor in rural Kentucky with the goals of avoiding pregnancy and getting away. But when she heads west with high hopes and a barely functional car, she meets the human condition head-on. By the time Taylor arrives in Tucson, Arizona, she has acquired a completely unexpected child, a three-year-old American Indian girl named Turtle, and must somehow come to terms with both motherhood and the necessity for putting down roots. Hers is a story about love and friendship, abandonment and belonging, and the discovery of surprising resources in apparently empty places.

Kingsolver has redeemed herself to me. I read The Poisonwood Bible for the first time in high school and enjoyed it, but when I re-read it last year I struggled to get through it. But this? Wow. I read it super quick and fell in love with so many of the characters. It was hard to understand why Taylor did some of the things she did (more on this coming in my Book Club Reflection), but she was still lovable.

I loved how the characters were so flawed and so perfect at the same time. Lou Ann was loving and maternal yet superficial to a flaw. She was so concerned about small things that shouldn’t have mattered but meant the world to her. Mattie was so determined to do the right thing that she broke the law to do it. Taylor fell in love, but with a married man. These flaws are so natural, so real, and they make the characters lovable.

It’s hard to have a favorite character other than Taylor. She narrates about 90% of the book and she has a voice that I found really engrossing. She’s from poor Kentucky and having family from Kentucky and having lived in Southern Indiana, I really related to this and could hear friends and family who spoke in the cadence I imagined Taylor speaking in and using phrases that made her character stand out.

I related more to Lou Ann than Taylor, though. Taylor was a little too bold for me to feel like her whereas Lou Ann was a little more hesitant and self-doubting, traits I can relate to easily. And she took pride in what she did, even if it was making salsa. I try to do this in any aspect of my life. I have to design a graph for work? It’s going to be the best darn graph you’ve ever seen! I have to turn in a spreadsheet for school? Let me school you on formatting. Yeah, I could see myself in Lou Ann. But I’d like to think I’m not quite as much of a coward and that I wouldn’t take Angel back. I was so proud of her for ignoring him, it was ridiculous.

I loved all the drama tied into the end of the novel, when Taylor went in search of Turtle’s parents with Esperanza and Estevan in tow. What she was doing was so ludicrous, bold, dangerous, and a pure act of love. I hated what she put Esperanza through, but at the same time it was brave and for the best. This novel really focuses on what’s right versus what’s legal. I like how Kingsolver addressed this with Turtle and the Guatemalan immigrants.

Barbara Kingsolver Image via the author's website.

Barbara Kingsolver
Image via the author’s website.

Even though I liked where it led to, I didn’t like how Turtle came into Taylor’s care. It didn’t make sense to me that a single young woman wouldn’t object to a young child being placed into her care. She didn’t resist or try to do anything to fight it and that seemed unrealistic to me. If this scene was different in any way, I would have liked the story a lot more.

I’ve already mentioned that Kingsolver toes the line between right and legal. I also like what she says about family. Lou Ann and Taylor are the least traditional family I could imagine and the fact that the old ladies in their neighborhood are the closest things to grandparents the kids have makes it even better. A family is a group of people who love each other no matter how much blood they share. The environment that Kingsolver  creates for Turtle and Dwayne Ray is more neutering than many traditional families found in books or in real life. I really liked this message.

Writer’s Takeaway: The thing that stole my heart about this book instantly was the voice it had. Taylor’s narration leapt right off the page and is a great example of a first person point of view book. I’d recommend it to anyone struggling with adult first person writing.

Well written, great story, lovely characters. a full Five out of Five stars.

This book fulfilled ‘Arizona’ for my Where Are You Reading? Challenge.

If you’re thinking about joining a book club, please consider joining my on-line book club from the comfort of your own home. Check out this post and vote below for our selection.


Until next time, write on.

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