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Greer Family #1

The Bean Trees

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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.

232 pages, Paperback

First published December 1, 1988

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About the author

Barbara Kingsolver

76 books17.5k followers
Barbara Kingsolver is an American novelist, essayist, and poet. She was raised in rural Kentucky and lived briefly in Africa in her early childhood. Kingsolver earned degrees in Biology at DePauw University and the University of Arizona and worked as a freelance writer before she began writing novels. Her most famous works include The Poisonwood Bible, the tale of a missionary family in the Congo, and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, a non-fiction account of her family's attempts to eat locally.

Her work often focuses on topics such as social justice, biodiversity, and the interaction between humans and their communities and environments. Each of her books published since 1993 have been on The New York Times Best Seller list. Kingsolver has received numerous awards, including the UK's Orange Prize for Fiction 2010, for The Lacuna and the National Humanities Medal. She has been nominated for the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Pulitzer Prize.

In 2000, Kingsolver established the Bellwether Prize to support "literature of social change."

Kingsolver was born in Annapolis, Maryland in 1955 and grew up in Carlisle in rural Kentucky. When Kingsolver was seven years old, her father, a physician, took the family to the former Republic of Congo in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Her parents worked in a public health capacity, and the family lived without electricity or running water.

After graduating from high school, Kingsolver attended DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana on a music scholarship, studying classical piano. Eventually, however, she changed her major to biology when she realized that "classical pianists compete for six job openings a year, and the rest of [them:] get to play 'Blue Moon' in a hotel lobby." She was involved in activism on her campus, and took part in protests against the Vietnam war. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in 1977, and moved to France for a year before settling in Tucson, Arizona, where she would live for much of the next two decades. In 1980 she enrolled in graduate school at the University of Arizona, where she earned a Master's degree in ecology and evolutionary biology.

Kingsolver began her full-time writing career in the mid 1980s as a science writer for the university, which eventually lead to some freelance feature writing. She began her career in fiction writing after winning a short story contest in a local Phoenix newspaper. In 1985 she married Joseph Hoffmann; their daughter Camille was born in 1987. She moved with her daughter to Tenerife in the Canary Islands for a year during the first Gulf war, mostly due to frustration over America's military involvement. After returning to the US in 1992, she separated from her husband.

In 1994, Kingsolver was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from her alma mater, DePauw University. She was also married to Steven Hopp, that year, and their daughter, Lily, was born in 1996. In 2004, Kingsolver moved with her family to a farm in Washington County, Virginia, where they currently reside. In 2008, she received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Duke University, where she delivered a commencement address entitled "How to be Hopeful".

In a 2010 interview with The Guardian, Kingsolver says, "I never wanted to be famous, and still don't, [...:] the universe rewarded me with what I dreaded most." She says created her own website just to compete with a plethora of fake ones, "as a defence to protect my family from misinformation. Wikipedia abhors a vacuum. If you don't define yourself, it will get done for you in colourful ways."

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 7,382 reviews
Profile Image for Larissa.
Author 7 books244 followers
April 13, 2007
My stepmother was the type of woman who painted the walls in our house eighteen different colors and wore turquoise-encrusted Kokopelli jewelry to show how in tune she was with the local culture. She hung Frida Khalo prints on the bedroom walls and thought that speaking ‘Food Spanish’ to waiters made her nearly fluent. She also compelled my sister and me to read a lot of Tony Hillerman paperbacks and other ‘local literature,’ which I am now almost positive included The Bean Trees. Because after reading the first chapter of this book, I got the strangest sense of de ja vu.

This is probably appropriate in its way, given that the reason I picked it up in the first place was to suppress a bit of homesickness. Because a couple times a year—amidst the April snowstorms and one too many guys on the subway who splay themselves across two seats while playing audio-enabled Snood on their cell phones—I start pining for the homeland. I turned to this book hoping to get a good dose of Tucsonan flavor to keep me going until I had the time and money to go home and remember why I left in the first place.

I have to say, though, The Bean Trees didn’t really do the trick. Because even though I appreciate details about the Sun Tran bus line and the way it smells in the desert when it rains (the thing I miss the most about Tucson), there’s more to invoking a landscape than just listing of things that are really there. A good book about New York, for instance, isn’t good because it mentions the Empire State Building or talks about people taking taxis. It is a major (and frequent) misstep in novels to try and just be factually accurate about a place, without ever getting into how it really feels there.

To be fair, though, while the landscape wasn’t terribly reminiscent of Arizona, the writing style really was in its own (probably accidental) way. Because Ms. Kingsolver really illuminates that deep Southwestern flare for ‘characters’ and ‘culture’—a fondness for highlighting how darn quirky desert folk really are, and a gringo’s deep and abiding love of all things latino.

(As a side note, though: if we’re going to just start dropping real places into the book for authenticity, I would have swapped the ‘Jesus Is Lord’ tire place for the church that has ‘Happiness is Submission to God’ painted on it—a slogan which often gets altered to ‘Happiness is Submission to Godzilla!’ by persistent neighborhood delinquents…)
Profile Image for Erika.
258 reviews23 followers
July 11, 2009
Marietta Greer has just completed two miracles of her rural Kentucky upbringing: graduating high school and avoiding pregnancy. To celebrate, she jumps in her ’55 Volkswagen bug and rides West, leaving her job at a Kentucky hospital counting platelets to stay true to her plan “to drive out of Pittman County one day and never look back” (11). On the road, she changes her name to Taylor and finds herself in Tucson, Arizona with a broken down car and a Cherokee baby in her arms.

Taylor is an honest, straight-forward protagonist that speaks with youthful tact and an open heart. Through her, Kingsolver voices the morals of an ideal United States brought down with prejudice and misunderstanding. The Bean Trees isn’t a celebration of the Southwest and its adopted mixed-heritage culture as it is a vision into a world stricken by the hypocrisy of that adoption. Comparing her rural Kentucky hometown and Tucson, Arizona together to discover they’re as foreign to each other as to be separate countries, Taylor declares herself an immigrant in her own right and easily warm up to Mattie--the local mechanic--and the plight of the hunted illegal immigrants coming and going from the sanctuary rooms above her garage. She is naive, but warm-hearted, as she struggles to comprehend the idea that a person can not only commit illegal acts, but can be illegal in the eyes of the law, too.

When I began the novel, I was not expecting to read about political and human rights issues. I was really surprised to discover Taylor navigating prejudices that are extremely close to home. Now that I’ve finished, I’m blown away with Taylor’s sweet-below-the-surface personality and firm beliefs in the extension of natural human rights to everyone, not just citizens. She finds more in common with Estevan, Esperanza, and Lou Ann Ruiz--her roommate--than she does with the other local folks she meets in town. Themselves displaced from their own points of origin, Taylor and her group form fast friendships and a loyal support system as binding as any family she could ever imagine. Together they help each other survive in a foreign land, everyone as much part rhizobia as part wisteria vine. They are an incongruous family, the titular bean trees, a confusing connotation of the more widely known and beautifully named wisteria vine.

Kingsolver’s debut novel is charmingly powerful and subtle in its celebration of families, whatever the form. I’m also entirely prejudiced when it comes to immigration issues and agree with Kingsolver’s politics here (there are a lot of people who will not). I think it’d be difficult to get through this novel coming at it with a closed or contrary mind that would disallow for the suspension of one’s own beliefs. The Bean Trees is filled with rich sentiments that call for an open mind and are impossible to ignore if you want to experience (and enjoy) the book to its fullest.

The best part about the book was the dialogue. Taylor and Lou Ann’s colloquial conversations are disarming and honest. It’s very easy to fall in love with their (and everyone else’s) quirks--they bloom from the pages as studies of characteristics we’ve all encountered before; Lou Ann, the worrisome young mother; Virgie, the bigoted senior citizen; Mattie, the bleeding heart. Because of this, The Bean Trees readily comes to life, vividly reminding us of real life issues still very pertinent to our society, even after twenty years. Even little Turtle, who speaks her strange vegetarian language, manages to communicate effectively, if a bit eccentrically, and found in me a sympathetic heart. She speaks a recipe of nourishment, sprinkled here with food, there with a small army of ‘Ma’s determined to raise her right. Like Taylor and Lou Ann finding reprieve in each other’s speech, she finds solace in surrounding her auditory world with comfortable, familiar things.

One of my favorites scenes is a complete spoiler, but I think it’s the most powerful in the entire book: emotional and transcendent, reaching far beyond the actions on the page. I’ve dwelt on the political issues, but what drives the narrative are the characters, their personal journeys, and the relationships they form with each other. While it may be difficult to appreciate those aspects without also understanding the politics of what motivates them, it’s hard not to grip the book firm with both hands when Taylor, Turtle, Estevan, and Esperanza sit nervously in Mr. Jonas Wilford Armistead’s office, certain that any sudden movements will break the spell and destroy not one, but four lives. I held my breath and absolutely could not put The Bean Trees down or risk psychologically damaging someone.

I had nothing to compare Kingsolver’s writing to. This is the only book of hers I’ve read so I can’t say where on a Kingsolver scale this would land, but I really liked it. What am I talking about? I loved this book. This is the type of literature I think everyone should read and try to understand. It opens a dialogue that I hope engages people in a positive way.
Profile Image for da AL.
366 reviews365 followers
August 30, 2019
A gently told story of the power of love, of how the families we make are as important as the ones we're born into. Each of us can make a difference with our compassion.
Profile Image for Siria.
1,797 reviews1,309 followers
April 3, 2008
I quite liked this, though it's obvious that this was Kingsolver's first novel. The main character, Taylor, is unevenly developed--she's too mutable, changing to fit what Kingsolver wants to say or how she wants to say it at various points in the book--and many of the other characters are types, not people, however finely observed. The plotline involving the refugees from Guatemala in particular was a little too anvilicious. And while it's set very definitely in the American South, the novel didn't seem reminiscent of it--I never really got a picture of Tuscon or Oklahoma in my head--because there was description but no feel.

What drew me into this book, though, were the hints of how vivid her writing would become by the time of The Poisonwood Bible: there are some really sharp and oddly beautiful observations, and when she's not trying too hard to drive home a point, her dialogue is nicely observed. Interesting, too, to see that is a book in which men are characterised almost solely by their absence. Enjoyable for the style and the promise, but not for the substance, I think.
Profile Image for Natalie.
Author 1 book10 followers
July 20, 2008
I have to admit, this book really did a number on me. It was recommended to me from a friend, so my expectations were high, but after the first few chapters I was was not getting into it. The narrator's first-person voice was simple, non-descriptive, and frankly just a bit too naive to handle for an entire novel. But the story was interesting, so I kept going.

And the thing is, so does Taylor, the main character. As she charges her way through a haphazard journey to the Southwest, she begins to grow up right before your eyes, and so does her narrative voice. Slowly, her language becomes more mature, as do her observations. A story that started out very basic and straightforward becomes rich and multi-faceted. By the end I was shocked at the transformation that happened in just 200+ pages, just as Taylor must have been to see herself and her world change in less than a year.

I now have nothing but love for this adorable book. So roll your eyes all you want at the girl in the first few chapters, she'll grow on you.
Profile Image for Joy D.
1,901 reviews220 followers
September 18, 2020
A young woman leaves home in Kentucky and heads off to establish a new life. Protagonist Marietta has never liked her name, so along her journey she changes her name to Taylor. In Oklahoma, her car breaks down. After repair, she goes to a restaurant, where a Cherokee woman bundles a small child into her car and drives away. The child appears to have been abused. When her car breaks down once again, Taylor and the child land in Tucson, Arizona. She rents a room from Lou Ann Ruiz, also from Kentucky, and they become fast friends. Lou Ann has a baby and has been abandoned by her husband.

This is a story of forming a sense of family with close friends and establishing a sense of home in a new location. It is a story of the relationships the foursome develops with the other characters, such as a pair of elderly ladies that watch the children and a woman that rescues Guatemalan refugees. It is a story of how a nurturing environment can help a child flourish. The title is fitting, as horticulture serves as an important symbol for the healing an abused child. Taylor’s lack of official parental authority is eventually questioned, which leads to the climax of the story.

I cared about the characters. They grow and develop over the course of the narrative. Taylor is a spirited protagonist and the dialogue reflects her it. She rubs off on Lou Ann, who initially lacks self-esteem. If you like novels about strong women pulling together to face life’s challenges, pick this one up.
38 reviews17 followers
October 13, 2010
So many things about this book bugged me.
1. Someone abandons a baby in your car and you don't get ahold of the police.
2. Someone abandons a baby, in your broken down car, you don't have a home or money or a destination in mind, so you decide to adopt baby.
3. You decide to adopt baby, but you spent the next several years being so bewildered by motherhood that you might as well have left baby in the car to be raised by coyotes.
4. Americans in general are directly responsible for the torture of innocent Guatemalans (in general) because an American manufactured telephone was disassembled and used for electric shock torture by the bad guy Guatemalans. This is your fault ugly American. You must take responsibility for any harm your good inventions cause when used completely out of context.
5. Where in the heck does she get her statistics for the random facts she throws in to odd character conversations? 1/4 of all girls are sexually assaulted by a relative? I'm an ER nurse. When you throw out a stat like that you better be ready to quote me your source and it better be peer reviewed.
Profile Image for Stacy.
116 reviews2 followers
January 14, 2009
When I first read this book several years ago, I was terribly impressed by
1) her writing style, which I really like - I wish I could write like that
2) the interesting plot of a single girl who had avoided teenage pregnancy through her young life only to end up with someone else's baby
3) the relationship she has with her mother, who believes her daughter "hung the moon in the sky" and can absolutely do no wrong. I think it would be wonderful if my daughters came out of their childhoods not pregnant, and with the assurance that I think they are so wonderful.
Profile Image for Jessaka.
889 reviews121 followers
March 22, 2023
Flat and hopeless. That is how the author has the protagonist describe Oklahoma. Insulting. It was obvious to me that she did no research on Oklahoma before writing this book, her first book. But she does no better with her last book on Appalachia. Those people are mainly drug addicts to her. So what did she say about Oklahoma that caused me to feel such anger?

First off, she has the young girl driving her VW and to Tulsa. Oh yes, her name is Taylor. She claims that all of Oklahoma is flat and without trees. I have never seen an area in that That is totally flat and without trees. Perhaps some areas are just flatter than others. Hopeless? I have no idea where she came up with that.

Next, a Cherokee woman gives her a baby. She believes she is saving this baby from the Cherokee nation. Another insult.

And now she believes that Oklahoma is the Cherokee Nation. She said this
when she was in Tulsa, but Tulsa is the Creek Nation. The town of
Tahlequah is the Cherokee Nation.

The Indians in Oklahoma do not live on reservations. At least they didn't win king solver wrote this book. Everyone lives where they want.
ThenThen in 2020 the supreme court made 1⁄2 of Oklahoma .
a Reservation. This means that the native people have their own jurisdiction over their lives. And yes it is OK to use the word Indian because they do use that word To describe themselves. Perhaps not all do. I know a man that wishes to be described by his tribe. He is tired of the US making up new names for Indians.

When my husband and I retired we moved to Tahlequah.. It is not flat here and the people are friendly and kind. We live in what is considered the ozark mountains, but to me they look like hills. And trees grow like weeds here, up to maybe 75' tall.


Profile Image for Holly R W.
342 reviews33 followers
January 7, 2023
"The Bean Trees" tells the story of an improbable heroine named Marietta Greer. Marietta grew up being raised by a single mother in a small town in Kentucky. After high school and working in the town's small hospital for 5 years, Marietta decides to take a road trip with an eye to settling somewhere else. Along the way, she stops at a bar/diner for dinner. Coming out to her car afterwards, she finds a baby wrapped up in a blanket placed on her car seat. The baby's aunt talks tearfully with her, begging Marietta to take the baby. The baby's mother is dead and the father seems threatening. Under these circumstances, Marietta reluctantly accepts the baby and drives away. She names the child "Turtle" and gives herself a new name as well (Taylor).

This is a novel composed of several threads, all intertwined. One is about the found family that Taylor and Turtle become part of. One is about the plight of Guatemalan refugees that Taylor befriends. One is about the slow development of Turtle, who has failure to thrive and who is actually three years old. And then there is Taylor's and Turtle's slow bonding with each other, which is beautiful to witness.

This is Barbara Kingsolver's debut novel. I loved how she used language and how vividly she drew her characters. It's easy to understand how many readers have considered "Bean Trees" a favorite book.
Profile Image for Deacon Tom F.
1,772 reviews133 followers
March 11, 2021
Barbara Kingsolver’s novel, “The Bean Trees” is fun read. Kingsolver is a superb storyteller. The characters are unique and descriptions make. The story comes alive.

It's the story of Marietta a strong young woman from Kentucky who throws everything aside and begins a life changing journey--she just drives. It's a saga of uncertainty that keeps you wondering what’s next.

Changes begin: 1) a new name of Taylor. 2) a Cherokee woman leaves a baby in Taylor’s car -- she names her Turtle. 3) she meets Lou Ann Ruiz. Now the craziness begins.

Kingslayer embraces many issues I imagine would be encountered in a freewheeling life style. Just to name a few: illegal immigration, rape, child protective services problems and divorce.

I really enjoyed this book. It's a great tale it also reminded me of people I knew and encountered in my early 20's.

I highly recommend!
Profile Image for Monica.
594 reviews622 followers
January 16, 2023
My second Kingsolver novel. So far she's batting 1,000. A coming of age tale of a young woman thrust into uncommon circumstances on the road (literally and figuratively) to figuring out who she is. She finds kindness and cruelty in the strangest places and learns a lot about the journey of life and her contribution to it. Written in 1988, this tale is timeless, not at all dated. Kingsolver knows how to tell a poignant story. A great way to start the year with a kind story that ends on a hopeful note.

4+ Stars

Listened to the audio book. CJ Critt was very good.
Profile Image for Kim.
303 reviews83 followers
September 18, 2021

This is an amazing cast of lovable characters who don't have much other than one another. It proves that "family" doesn't have to be blood related.
Profile Image for jess.
848 reviews71 followers
October 13, 2009
"But nothing on this earth is guaranteed, when you get right down to it, you know? I've been thinking about that. About how your kids aren't really YOURS, they're just these people that you try to keep an eye on, and hope you'll all grow up someday to like eachother and still be in one piece. What I mean is, everything you get is really just on loan. Does that make sense?"

"Sure,"I said. "Like library books. Sooner or later they've all got to go back into the nightdrop."

I'm trying to get better about listening to more audiobooks in the car and less Top 40s best hits of today and your school days. Allow me to be perfectly clear: there is entertainment value in your child knowing all the words to Soulja Boy's romantic serenade "Kiss Me Through the Phone," but it's also rewarding for him to say that Barbara Kingsolver is a good storyteller, discuss immigrants, refugees, and murderous South American regimes on the way home from the bus stop, and groan when the narrator announces the last disc. "There's a sequel! We'll read it! Don't worry," I offered.

I picked The Bean Trees to rehabituate myself to the life of an audiobook commuter because I remembered reading another Barbara Kingsolver book in college, and I remembered her writing to be funny and engaging, I remembered she leans toward female protagonists that don't suck, and she wrote that book everyone loves, Animal Vegetable Miracle. I keep meaning to read AVM, but it's got such a long wait at the library. The Bean Trees had no waiting at all, and Sue Monk Kidd said it was one of her all-time favorites it in the Goodreads September newsletter. That's enough good reasons.

So I "read" the audiobook of The Bean Trees, and I enjoyed it. The pace of the story is occasionally more of a stroll than a walk, the characters fluctuate in ways that are more convenient for the plot than authentically human, and the dialogue trails off occasionally, leaving the reader hanging. All these things can be annoying, or charming, and I think they work well enough here. So, yes, it reads a little bit like a first novel, which it is. I was quite surprised to realize this was written in 1988 - a number of the sentiments and political views seem timely and contemporary, like Native parental rights & US immigration/refugee policies. This book has feminist characters and stories, it's structured around unconventional families, and includes an emphasis on community support in a way that's not contrived, hokey, or idealistic. Special bonus for the most amazing business name ever: Jesus is Lord Used Tires.

The most important things I hope I remember about this book:
1. The new year started on July 12, my birthday.
2. They spend a lot of time in Oklahoma, which I have done.
3. The ladies in this book are smart, independent, and they talk to each other about real life.
4. I just love a good, epic road trip with life-altering consequences.
5. There's a lady whose "power color" is red, and she wears it all the time. I love people with power colors.
6. The theme of unintentional single motherhood & parenting in a fairly unconventional way.
Profile Image for Laura.
126 reviews3 followers
March 18, 2010
I love Barbara Kingsolver, but I can't believe this book was ever published. 1988 must have been a slow book year. I am being generous with the two stars, and I am only giving it that because there were a number of sections which showcased the excellent writer she would go on to become with experience. The characters are all so flat and undeveloped. Taylor makes no sense and was not likable. I never felt that she bonded with Turtle, always saw her as a burden then suddenly at the end, when she was threatened with losing the child she was on a quest to keep her at all cost. If that child was molested as a baby, she would need years of serious professional help and Taylor is clueless. That child would have been better off with Estevan and Esperanza, and for all anybody knows that could actually be their child??? And the storyline about Estevan and Esperanza losing their child but that she was just being cared for by somebody else? That sounds really plausible. And I love how Taylor goes looking for a roommate and finds her new BFF from Tennessee.
Oh, and the scene where the Indian woman puts the baby in Taylor's (Marietta's) car and she just calmly sits there watching the woman drive away in the truck. And the dialogue between Marietta and her mother does not sound like authentic dialogue.
I guess I really didn't like this book at all. I read it super fast because that's what i do to get through a book i don't like, fast. I know it sounds counterintuitive but hey it's the truth.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Karen.
926 reviews56 followers
May 27, 2023
I read and discussed this years ago in our library book discussion group. I am now bringing this review to Goodreads.

This was the beginning of my relationship with Barbara Kingsolver. I say that as if I personally know her. But this was my first book of hers - and her first published book. This book didn't make her famous, it would take The Poisonwood Bible for her to gain recognition. But, this book, I thought really was a beautiful literary novel.

Premise: Missy-turned-Taylor Greer is neither running from a killer nor from the law. She's a part Cherokee, twenty-something, down-home Kentucky girl who never quite stood still. The fact that she witnessed a boy commit suicide, well, that was enough for her to need a new life. As readers, we find her quite the character - and not impossible to love. We are anxious for her future, and ready to take the drive with her west. Her plans change when along the way, a woman drops a toddler in her front seat and begs her to take the little girl with her. When Taylor realizes this little girl has been the victim of horrific abuse, she agrees to do so. So now, Turtle (her new name) is along for the journey. Away they go to the next destination.

Taylor and Turtle soon meet Mattie who owns a garage which gives Taylor a new purpose in Tuscon, Arizona.

Kingsolver has this skill of creating unique, lovable-yet-flawed characters. They stay with you like old friends, who when they call you after several years, the conversation continues as if no time has passed by. This is how I feel about this book. The minute I began to write this review, all the memories flooded back.

Biggest message...

There is humanity in here. Sometimes we need to see this and know it exists in this world. If you haven't read this book, do so. If you want to re-read this, do so. Her first book, may be even her best one.
Profile Image for Erin Glover.
455 reviews34 followers
June 2, 2019
I read The Bean Trees as part of an effort to go back and read the early works of my favorite authors. Barbara Kingsolver is one of my all-time favorites. So I went all the way back to her first novel. And I’m glad I did. It’s hard to believe The Bean Trees is a debut novel.

Missy, short for Marietta, later changed to Taylor, heads west from Kentucky in a broken-down ’55 Volkswagen bug. Unlike the other girls in her town, she managed to graduate from high school with good grades and without becoming pregnant. She “intended to drive out of Pittman County one day and never look back, except maybe for Mama.” On her way through Oklahoma, the Cherokee Nation to be exact, an Indian woman taps on her car window and says, “Take this baby.” She explains the child is her dead sister’s. She was born in the back of a Plymouth. Taylor takes her.

The baby is very clingy so Taylor names her Turtle. She says, “You’re like a mud turtle. If a mud turtle bites you, it won’t let go till it thunders.” Taylor becomes infatuated with Arizona, thrilled to be out of Oklahoma, and makes up her mind to live there. Upon getting two flat tires in Tucson, Taylor pulls up to Jesus Is Lord Used Tires, where she meets Mattie. Mattie will become her good friend and employer. Looking for a home, Taylor answers an ad and meets Lou Ann Ruiz, mother of newborn Dwayne Ray. Taylor and Lou Ann will become best friends.

As with all Kingsolver novels, The Bean Trees has a message. One of the central themes concerns immigrants seeking asylum in the US. Taylor notices people peering out of the top floor of Mattie’s home. They turn out to be Guatemalan refugees. Taylor is watching a news clip where Lou Ann, who is being interviewed, describes how the US returned a woman and her son to El Salvador. They were later found dead in a ditch. One of Taylor’s guests refers to the woman and her son as “illegal aliens and dope peddlers.” (Thirty years later and our US president refers to immigrants as gang members and rapists.)

Kingsolver weaves a wonderful tale about how Taylor finds purpose in her life, about how we need to work together to save immigrants seeking asylum, about love and friendship and family.

I fell in love with Taylor and Turtle. I can’t wait to read Kingsolver’s follow-up book, Pigs in Heaven.
Profile Image for Julie G .
884 reviews2,755 followers
October 18, 2016
Let me tell you something. . . if Barbara Kingsolver's fictional characters suddenly spring to life and buy houses in my beloved neighborhood. . . I'm moving.

Is it because they are creeps and criminals?

No. It's because they're boring and humorless and weird. I've officially read 3 of Kingsolver's novels now, and I haven't liked a single character. I enjoyed the story and the writing of Prodigal Summer, yet still managed to dislike every character. Poisonwood Bible and this one? No thanks. It's not even that the characters are unformed or inauthentic. They're just. . . blah. . . yuck. . . gag. I'd rather have my teeth cleaned than go out for coffee with any of these people.

I have a collection of Kingsolver essays on my night stand, and I'm really going to give it the old college try, but. . . no more of her fiction for me.
Profile Image for Lisa.
124 reviews56 followers
September 4, 2022
This is a lovely and touching coming-of-age story of Taylor Greer. In search of better options than what her hometown has to offer, she buys a beat up Volkswagen and leaves Pittman County, Kentucky to head West. She lands in Tucson, Arizona and unintentionally puts down roots as she builds strong bonds with a few locals and begins to realize that families come in many forms.

Sounds charming, right? Well, it’s a lot more complicated than that, and I was delighted by how much Kingsolver was able to pack into this book. In addition to exploring the concept of families and relationships, it also addresses topics like the shared burden of womanhood and respect for the environment. In addition, some of the main storylines revolve around heavier themes, including illegal immigration, classism, and child abuse. There's a lot here, but I think Kingsolver did a wonderful job of describing the complexities of the world through the eyes of a sheltered young woman in her early twenties. As Taylor observes, “I thought I’d had a pretty hard life. But I keep finding out that life can be hard in ways I never knew about.”

Despite the expansive and complicated themes, the book is easy to read and there is actually quite a bit of humor sprinkled throughout. The dialogue is also fantastic - it's so honest and you can't help falling for all of the characters. And as you would expect from a Kingsolver novel, this is a book with a social conscience, and the story reflects her commitment to environmental and human rights causes. But what I love about Kingsolver is that she is able to present the issues in a lovely, humane and thought-provoking way.

This is the second Kingsolver novel I've read (The Poisonwood Bible is one of my all-time favorites), and it won't be my last. I highly recommend this one if you're looking for a book filled with vivid writing and lots of heart.
September 15, 2022
This is a character driven book so if you’re not digging the characters stop reading. The first half is about two separate women who live underprivileged lives, struggling through life/hardships, both have kids and soon their worlds come together when they become roommates.

Sweet, quick read that covers: motherhood, immigrants, nature, family/friendship. The bean trees is so real with everything that’s bad in the world and how to overcome.
Profile Image for Wyndy.
189 reviews79 followers
July 23, 2018
“When I drove over the Pittman line, I made two promises to myself. One I kept, the other I did not.”

Marietta Greer, in her early 20’s, left Pittman, Kentucky alone in a 1955 VW bug with no windows, no back seat, and no starter. Her first promise to herself was to get a new name: “I wasn’t crazy about anything I had been called up to that point in life, and this seemed like the time to make a clean break.” Her second promise was to drive west until her car quit running and stay there. When Marietta/Missy hits Taylorsville, IL, still headed no where in particular except away, she decides to become Taylor. Then she keeps driving west. But somewhere in central Oklahoma (“I had never imagined that any part of a round world could be so flat . . . Oklahoma made me feel there was nothing left to hope for”), her car gives out - a bent rocker arm - and she careens into a service station. After repairs that cost half her meager money, she goes in search of someplace she can get a cup of coffee and a bite to eat for a dollar before getting the hell out of Oklahoma (hint: promise #2). And in the parking lot of a bar with a neon Budweiser sign, a very thin Cherokee woman places a swaddled baby through the non-window of her car and turns away and leaves, with a warning not to follow her. And so begins the story of Taylor and Turtle Greer.

These two meet some interesting characters when they final settle down in Tucson, Arizona: Lou Ann Ruiz, soon to be divorced from Angel Ruiz, and her new baby, Dwayne Ray; Mattie, sole proprietor of Jesus Is Lord Used Tires and human rights activist; Estevan and Esperanza, a young Indian couple from Guatemala carrying a heavy burden of sadness; and Lou Ann’s elderly spinster neighbors, Edna Poppy and Virgie Mae Parsons. These names alone should give you a pretty good feel for this book.

Kingsolver writes unforgettable characters and dialogue, and her nature writing is superb. Few other writers, except maybe Willa Cather, can describe a desert thunderstorm or a night-blooming cereus or purple wisteria (“bean trees”) quite like Barbara Kingsolver. There is one scene where I really needed a tissue, but this is not a sappy, sentimental, crybaby book - it is a book about real people dealing with real life, and some fabulous descriptions of the natural world around us. Recommend to all.
Profile Image for DebsD.
608 reviews
April 3, 2018
I read The Poisonwood Bible a little over a year ago and loved it, so I'm not sure what made me take so long to pick up something else by Kingsolver (maybe that ever-so-long to-be-read list of mine...) I was aware that this was her debut novel and that some readers felt it wasn't as good as her later work, but I was pleasantly surprised. I agree that it doesn't demonstrate quite the same depth and polish as Poisonwood, but it's a bloody good debut and there are clear hints of how sharp and vividly-observed her writing would become. The story starts out seeming simple, but opens out to touch on important themes (politics, human rights, families of all shapes and sizes), but with a light touch which makes this very readable. The characters are engaging and there's a delightful protagonist who captured my attention early on. The main characters grow nicely as the story progresses - appropriate, given how young they are at the beginning. I'm determined to pick up my next Kingsolver read much more quickly than I got to this one!
Profile Image for Misse.
60 reviews1 follower
May 15, 2008
I really liked this book. Even more than Poisonwood Bible- which was good in a different way. This book reminds me of Where the Heart Is. It's a quick read- I think you'll like it.
Profile Image for Wanda Pedersen.
1,864 reviews371 followers
April 8, 2016
This is a character driven novel and if you don’t like the characters, I advise you to set it down, walk away, and read something else. If, however, you are willing to spend a while getting to know the two young women featured, I think you will enjoy The Bean Trees. This is not an action novel—it’s an exploration of the lives of two young women from disadvantaged homes and how they sort out their lives.

Who can’t appreciate the desire to get out of Dodge after graduation and see what else the world has to offer? Marietta re-names herself Taylor and truly starts over. She bravely starts out in a hunk-of-junk car and acquires a child along the way. LouAnn takes the more traditional route out—she gets married and moves with a husband, who proceeds to abandon his pregnant wife. But the two young women, from similar backgrounds, find one another and start building a firm friendship.

There is a study in contrasts—young women from poor families and illegal immigrants. Taylor, who has felt the weight of discrimination all of her life, is suddenly confronted with her white privilege. LouAnn, who has never felt worthy of anything, is changed by a job where her enthusiasm and hard work are recognized and rewarded. Instead of mooning around, hoping for a transformation of her absent husband, she finally takes charge of her life. Both of them learn new ways to cope with life’s problems and new ways to look at themselves.

These are issues that all young women face at some point in life (independence, marriage, careers, children, relations with parents)—how we each deal with them depend on the resources, both financial and friends/family, that we have available to us. I did find Taylor’s ready acceptance of the child, Turtle, to be less than believable. She had finished high school and I thought should have known better than to take off across country with someone else’s child, no matter how abused that child was. And I found the final solution to her legal position to be most unlikely.

The significance of the title, which refers to the Wisteria vine, gets rather slapped in your face at the end of the book. The scraggly, ugly vine which, after the life-giving rain, produces luxuriant foliage and beautiful flowers, just as the underprivileged, poor girls flower into a happier life with some kindness from others. Having said that, I loved Turtle’s obsession with plants—wanting to read the seed catalog rather than a story book—even though I can see exactly how it fit into this really obvious message.

Despite my perception of flaws, however, I found the book an enjoyable read. It made me appreciate my own age and station in life—I have said it before, I would never choose to be less than 40 again!
Profile Image for Dillwynia Peter.
330 reviews64 followers
May 30, 2019
Barbara Kingsolver shot out of the barriers with her first novel – The Bean Trees – and really, has never looked back. There are very few novelists that deliver time after time with high quality, well thought out, interesting themes & character filled books; names that come to mind of people who do fall into this category are such novelists as Margaret Atwood and Jane Austen.

The plot is very character driven rather than narrative. It is basically the journey of a young woman discovering herself, and the people she gathers around her, and by their presence being part of the process of her development. Tucson, by its very nature of being so close to the Mexican border is a city that is a melting pot of cultures and peoples. It is hardly surprising then that Taylor would collect a series of characters and eccentrics. Being a drifter, she is going to encounter people with their own set of problems and ideals.

The complication in Taylor’s life is the thrusting suddenly onto her of a toddler who is a Native American, who she calls Turtle. Taylor is suddenly a single mother with all the prejudices and assumptions people make. There is also the steep learning curve of being a mother and the expectations the child demands in her innocence. It makes the challenges of a stable life for the small family unit that much more “interesting”.

Kingsolver’s Tucson is a colourful place, and one that makes you want to visit. The novel deals well with poverty, human struggles, and the sense of community that poorer neighbourhoods are known to conduct. It does come with challenges – requiring baby sitters, and fighting off the good intensions of those that believe that splitting a poor family unit is better for the child. This is a thorny topic – which is better: giving a child financial security, or be in a loving family unit that has financial issues? It’s a common problem worldwide, and this book shows which side Kingsolver favours.

The strength of women – as a sisterhood, as a community, as individuals – is very much in the fore. The men are often losers: violent, lazy and demanding on the limited resources and finances. It could be construed as a feminist novel, but I think this is misguided, as it encompasses the strength that can be achieved if people work together and are supportive when times are tough. Although there is an aspect of lesbianism, there are also very passionate relationships with men. Taylor falls in love with Esperanza, but knows Esperanza is never going to leave her husband, and so fulfils her unrequited needs with a deep platonic friendship.

The other major theme is immigration. The folklore of the US is its welcoming of those that wish to come to the US for better opportunities. For some decades now, this has not been the case, and it depends on where you come from, more than who you are. The struggle of a Guatamalan couple who are refugees is poignantly written, exasperated by the fact that young Turtle looks very much like the child that Esperanza has lost. The Underground Railroad is very much alive and functioning in modern US as we see this couple avoid the authorities and restart their lives.

I loved this book, with the characters, the experiences, and the personal development of both Taylor as a mother, and the emotional development of Turtle, who has obviously been abused (sexually & emotionally & most likely physically). I also enjoyed the sense of place: I felt I was sweating it out in Tucson in those long hot summers, and also the beauty of the surrounding landscape. I really enjoyed the passions and emotions the characters experienced. What I especially liked was the view of one being eccentric does not preclude you from happy fulfilling relationships at all levels- friendship to sexual.
Profile Image for Rusalka.
379 reviews111 followers
February 6, 2017
Barbara Kingsolver is an author I am terrified to revisit. Many years ago I read The Poisonwood Bible and I loved it. It was a hard read. It challenged me in so many ways, but it was epic and beautiful. Then, I read The Lacuna. Again the storytelling was magical, and with characters such as Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Leon Trotsky... so many real lives to carry you along.

So I have always been hesitant, although eager, to pick up her other works. I had this one and I thought, if her first novel sucks I can always put it down, and it's only 250pp. While a lot less refined than the others I mention above, the beautiful, captivating storytelling is evident and spellbinding again. I was also worried that with this book without those BIG themes - religion, colonialism, Mccarthyism, communism, art, etc - that this element of storytelling would be lost. It is not.

Even stripped back to the bones of a simple story, southern girl wants to make something of herself somewhere else from home, Kingsolver's storytelling comes through. Are there issues with it being a first book? Of course. I couldn't quite connect with Taylor at times, although I wonder if that's from coming from different eras and worlds, as well as the skill of the writer.

Is the book a good introduction, or even continuation, of Kingsolver's writing? I think so. I think those going into this short, early book expecting something on par to the books mentioned above are going to be disappointed. But going in with my hesitant trepidation of a fan who is worried of being let down, I was not disappointed.
Profile Image for Michael.
1,094 reviews1,510 followers
August 3, 2012
In this delightful first novel by Kingsolver, she already has her skills working on all cylinders. The tale portrays a journey of a young woman, Taylor, to escape from a restricted life in a small town in Kentucky. Along the way, an abused 3-year old Cherokee girl is abandoned in her car in Oklahoma, whom she names Turtle, and incorporates into her life at the point her car falls apart in Tuscon, Arizona. With a relatively simple plot and a few characters, she captures well how even poor, uneducated people with big hearts can draw in a circle of fellow humans sufficient to handle many tough challenges and to make the essence of a joyful extended family. The impacts of poverty, classism, racism, child abuse, and persecution of political refugees from South America are some of the themes. Despite these subject lines, humor and personal triumphs abound in the telling. Books like this that make me both laugh and cry, as well as encapsulate visions of the universal in the particular, garner highest ratings from me. I place this one in the same ball park with novels of Kent Haruf and Billie Letts.
Profile Image for Jeanette (Ms. Feisty).
2,179 reviews1,909 followers
May 12, 2008
This story was just a ton of fun! I whipped through it very quickly. Nice flow, and at times hilarious, especially in the first half of the book or so. The Southern expressions cracked me up, and I love the way she poked fun at the 80s New Age culture.

The style is somewhat similar to Elizabeth Berg, but without so much heavy sentiment. (That's not a criticism of Berg. I like her books a lot, too.)

I thought I hated this author because of Poisonwood Bible. I'm delighted to find out she can tell a great story.
Profile Image for Chris.
735 reviews97 followers
July 12, 2019
This reads like southern fiction although it's setting is in the Southwest. Humble background. What is family? How do you deal with unexpected turns in your life?
I thoroughly enjoyed taking this journey with Taylor. An unexpectedly easy read. Kingsolver gave Taylor a voice that has some wickedly funny observations, yet was often naïve in her thinking. The latter is as it should be, as this was a young woman from a small town in KY, whose prospects were pretty dim...her goals were to graduate from H.S. and not get pregnant, which seemed to be the path of a very few girls in Pittman. She manages to achieve that and after saving enough money from her job, she buys a beat-up VW bug and heads out of town. as befitting her age & lack of experience, she has no firm plans other than to get out of the country and change her name. Marietta becomes Taylor . How Taylor ends up with a toddler she names Turtle, settles in another small, economically downtrodden town, connects with Lou Ann, a single mom, and Mattie, who helps refugees in the country is quite a wonderful story. I loved the characters and the warmth of the relationships against a bleak backdrop.
The Bean Trees was written in 1988, but many of the storylines could unfortunately have been ripped from our current day's headlines.
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