Thursday, January 10, 2013

Review: Little Bee by Chris Cleave

Pages: 284
Genre: Literary Fiction
Series/Standalone: Standalone
Version: Paperback (ISBN: 9781416589648)
Publication Date: August 2008
Original Title: The Other Hand
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Source: Personal Collection

Synopsis (Book):
Little Bee, a young Nigerian refugee, has been released from the British immigration detention center where she has been held under horrific conditions for the past two years, after narrowly escaping a traumatic fate in her homeland of Nigeria.  Alone in a foreign country, without a family member, friend, or pound to call her own, she seeks out the only English person she knows.  Sarah a posh young mother and magazine editor with whom Little Bee shares a dark and tumultuous past.

They first met on a beach in Nigeria, where Sarah was vacationing with her husband, Andrew, in an effort to save their marriage after an affair, and their brief encounter had haunted each woman for two years.  Now together, they face a disturbing past and an uncertain future with the help of Sarah's four-year-old son, Charlie, who refuse to take off his Batman costume.  A sense of humor and an unflinching moral compass allow each woman, and the reader, to believe that even in the face of unspeakable odds, humanity can prevail.


     The main theme behind Little Bee is nothing new, basically it is a story of what happen when two people from completely different worlds collide.  But it was done in a such a unique way, I have a hard trying to find a book that has the same "feel".  Maybe it is because I don't often times read books about immigrants and their experience.

    One of the things that made this story work was that it was told from alternating point of views.  Cleave, started the out from Little Bee's point of view and from alternated every other chapter between her and Sarah as the story progressed.  It was a well done move, that showed his talent, but also gave readers a chance to see not only what each character was thinking but also how they viewed the events that ultimately brought them together.

    The one gripe that the timeline.  Even though it is not that huge of a deal everything seemed to happen so fast.  From the time that Little Bee showed up on Sarah's doorstep to the time they take a trip to London, about a week had passed (if that).  I felt that the time frame was not long enough for some of the strong emotional attachments that had formed to be realistic.

    One thing that might turn some readers off of Little Bee, is that it is not a happy story.  There are no nice little ribbons and HEA (happily ever after).  The best way to describe it is that Cleave is not one of those writers that is afraid to little the story end where it is suppose to.  Sometime, while reading a book, I feel like writers have a fear of not end with an HEA, so the take out the ribbons and the bows and the wrap everything up nice and neat.  I hate that, which is probably why I liked Little Bee so much.  Because as a reader, even though I was rooting for some glimpse of sunshine and butterflies mixed in with the darkness, I could tell that Little Bee was not going to be one of those stories.  And Cleave was not afraid to take it all the way, even it meant disappointing some readers that need/want their book ending to be tied up nicely in a pretty bow.


Let's start with Sarah.  The best way that I can describe my feelings is through a Venn Diagram.

The green circle is like, the blue is indifferent, red is dislike.  Sarah falls in the tiny little space where the three circles meet.  I did not like. I did not dislike her.  And I was not completely indifferent about her. There were a few times where she was in the red ( most of the time).  Times that she was in the blue (often enough).  But there was only one occasion that I can remember that she was in the green.  I don't think a character in a story has ever ended up in this little space before.  Her character was rather shallow, yet she didn't know that she was shallow.  She thought she was a deep person that cared about others and felt deeply, but she selfish and only cared about what she wanted.  The only unselfish thing that she probably ever did in her whole entire life was on the day she met Little Bee on the beach in Nigeria.

On the opposite end sat Little Bee.  It was at times to believe that she was only 16, at most.  But considering some of the stuff that she had went through it was no wonder.  She was a very mature girl and some of my most favorite quotes come from her.  Like
We must see all scars as beautiful  Okay?  This will be our secret.  Because take it from me a scar does not form on the dying.  A scar means, I survived. 
I also like Little Bee because she was a good person.  She truly wanted to be helpful and even though some of the things that happened were not her fault she still felt the need to redeem herself for them.  Little Bee character (at least for me) was the complete opposite of Sarah's.  While Sarah's good deeds seemed to be motivated by how it would look (or make herself feel), Little Bee's good deeds were because she felt that she was in the wrong and had to makeup for what she had done.

Charlie (mentioned in the synopsis) is destined to spend some of his adult years lounging back in a shrinks chair.


The true beauty of Little Bee is the writing.  Which showcases Chris Cleave's talents off superbly.

First:  Little Bee is written in first person.  In my experience not to main writers can pull that off and do it well.  Little Bee is an example of the first person narrative done at it's best.  I have opened several book while shopping in the book store and read the first two paragraphs and could tell instantly that I would not be able to tolerate it because it was in first person.  I did until the end of chapter one that Little Bee was in first person.   Add to the fact that he was able to refer to the reader without taking me out the story.  Yes, Cleave success used words like "you":
 Your system is cruel, but many of you were kind to me.  You sent charity boxes. You dressed my horror in boots and a colorful shirt.  You sent it something to paint its nails with.  You posted it books and newspapers.
Without making me want to throw the book at the wall and walk away.  It is very rare when I enjoy a first person narrative, I normally avoid them like the plague.

Second:  I don't think I have ever read a novel were stream of consciousness played a major part.  There were times when Little Bee would go off and just start rambling and I enjoyed it.  I enjoyed her chapters the most because the voice sounded authentic and when she would go off and just like her mind wander, she would say the most amazing things.

Third:  Amazing Quotes:
You have seen trouble too, Sarah.  You are making a mistake if you think it is unusual.  I am telling you, trouble is like the ocean.  It covers two thirds of the world.
Death, of course, is a refuge.  It's where you go when a new name, or a mask and cape, can no longer hide you from yourself.  It's where you run to when none of the principalities of your conscience will grant you asylum.

Explanation of Rating:
Even though Little Bee has the makings of being a instant favorite, it did not stick to me.  And all my favorite books stuck to me after I finished reading it.  Maybe that is a plus because it meant the story was finished and I could go on to another book.  But if you have read Little Bee, you will know why I should at least wonder a tiny bit what happens with the characters when the last page was done.

Final Grade: A

Overall Recommendation:

I would recommend this book to anyone that likes literary fiction and is not disturb by a story that is gloomy throughout.  If you like your stories to take you away to a happier place, this is not for you.  If you need your characters to go riding off into the sunset, keep moving.  But if you are not bothered by the fact that things might not get better or might just even get worse for your characters, then this might be the book for you.  Great writing, a unique plot, a to old for her age refugee girl, and no nice little bow endings.


  1. Monique, Thanks for your review! I read Little Bee last year and had some concerns. I agree, the writing is excellent and Cleave does a great job of giving authentic voice to each of his characters. He doesn't explain too much- he just presents the characters and allows you to figure them out and judge their actions. At times, the plot felt contrived (I didn't think anyone would have walked away from that beach), and unfortunately, I didn't like Sarah. I loved Little Bee though, and I think she, and Cleave, have something important to say.

    1. I don't believe that either Sarah or Andrew would have walked away from that beach either. I think somehow the government would have covered up their disappearance. They were on a beach and it is easy enough to say that they got swept away with the tide (or something).

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  2. Very thorough review. I disliked Sarah because I felt the majority of her pain and anguish was self-inflicted (with the exception of the finger incident) I think Cleave made some great characters, Little Bee for one, and the son and the other immigrant women in the holding center...very good story.

    1. I think that was my problem with her. Most of her problems were her own fault and she knew it but didn't want to change to solve them.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  3. I have to agree with you on that final thought. This book was too heavy for me. The writing was good but I could not get pass the plot to get the positive review you got. The story is unique and I love that but it was too heavy for me. Great review.

    1. There are some people (like me) that love heavy books. Members of my book club have been known to comment that I like dark stuff. I don't know why, but my taste do seem to run that way.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting.