PattyMacDotComma's Reviews > Little Bee

Little Bee by Chris Cleave
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“Most days I wish I was a British pound coin instead of an African girl. Everyone would be pleased to see me coming. Maybe I would visit with you for the weekend and then suddenly, because I am fickle like that, I would visit with the man from the corner shop instead—but you would not be sad because you would be eating a cinnamon bun, or drinking a cold Coca Cola from the can, and you would never think of me again . . . It can cross deserts and oceans and leave the sound of gunfire and the bitter smell of burning thatch behind.”


How can you resist an opening like that? First paragraph of the book, and we see how this girl’s imagination helps her escape her world. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book with so much light-hearted, warm humour and so much tragedy, often in the same sentence.

Little Bee is the younger of two Nigerian sisters fleeing the horrors of the Nigerian oil wars. They hide and change their names, so they won’t be identified as coming from a particular village. Big sister becomes Kindness, while little sister becomes Little Bee. Little Bee is determined to speak and behave “English” so she can blend in later.

“See how nicely a British pound talks? It speaks with the voice of Queen Elizabeth the Second of England. Her face is stamped upon it, and sometimes when I look very closely I can see her lips moving. I hold her up to my ear. What is she saying? ‘Put me down this minute, young lady, or I shall call my guards.’ "

British couple Andrew and Sarah O’Rourke, are holiday in Nigeria and cross paths with the sisters on a beach. What follows is the subject of the story, told sometimes by Little Bee and sometimes by Sarah O’Rourke, the wife. The story goes back and forth, often revolving around four-year old Charlie O’Rourke, who is obsessed with Batman (wears only alternating Batman costumes) and saving people from The Baddies.

What is so simple and straight-forward for Charlie is complicated for his parents, each of them changed in different ways from their time in Nigeria. Charlie thinks like Little Bee. He sees baddies everywhere and hides in the garden pretending he’s in the jungle. Bee, however, compares her childhood games with those of English kids.

“They hide in the gap between the washing machine and the refrigerator and they make believe they are in the jungle, with green snakes and monkeys all around them. Me and my sister, we used to hide in a gap in the jungle, with green snakes and monkeys all around us, and make believe that we had a washing machine and a refrigerator. "

When Little Bee seems so constantly wary of baddies, Sarah says:

“You’re young, Bee. You don’t know how the world works yet. All you’ve seen is trouble, so you think trouble is all you’re going to get.”

“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.”


Sarah doesn’t know it, but Bee lives her life by always looking for the quickest exit . . . exit from life. The easiest way to kill herself quickly if she has to—and she assumes that she may have to at any time. She notes sharp objects, high bridges, ropes, poison cleansers and the like--the way professional drivers always know where their nearest escape route is in case of an accident.

She’s not depressed. She knows there are fates worse than death, and she intends to avoid suffering one.

The beach scenes are horrific, as the book jacket says, and it's terrifying to think that the world doesn't seem to be improving.

A character tells another that giving ten percent (of your income) “is the cost of doing business. Ten per cent buys you a stable world to get on with your life in. Here, safe in the West. That’s the way to think of it. If everyone gave ten per cent, we wouldn’t need to give asylum.”

Nothing about compassion, mercy, empathy, KINDNESS. Just money. The so-called Developed World needs to develop some moral backbone. If we did an audit of it, we’d say “Should Do Better.”

Superb, stunning, moving, heart-breaking. And extremely readable. People question why fiction is important. This is why.
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Reading Progress

August 1, 2016 – Shelved
August 22, 2016 – Started Reading
August 23, 2016 –
page 82
30.83% "funny and tragic all at once - so far, I'm loving it"
August 24, 2016 –
page 168
63.16%
August 26, 2016 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-23 of 23 (23 new)

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message 1: by MaryG2E (new)

MaryG2E Great review Patty.


PattyMacDotComma MaryG2E wrote: "Great review Patty."

Thanks, Mary. Quite a book!


☮Karen Excellent review, Patti.


PattyMacDotComma ☮Karen wrote: "Excellent review, Patti."

Thanks, Karen. I appreciate that.


message 5: by Bianca (new) - added it

Bianca Great review. I'm yet to read Chris Cleave. I've come across his name quite a fair bit lately.


Angela M Terrific review, Patty! Love your last paragraph.


PattyMacDotComma Stephanie wrote: "Fantastic review, Patty...."

Thanks, Stephanie.


PattyMacDotComma Bianca wrote: "Great review. I'm yet to read Chris Cleave. I've come across his name quite a fair bit lately."

Thanks, and same here, Bianca. This is my first one of his, and it really is something. I think his new one has had more mixed reviews though.


PattyMacDotComma Angela M wrote: "Terrific review, Patty! Love your last paragraph."

Thanks for that, Angela. I was just telling someone earlier about why I think fiction isn't just escapism. It really does affect people, and we'd like to think for the better. :)


Candi A fabulous review, Patty! This really was a great book and your review really brought back so much of it for me.


message 11: by Sharon (new) - added it

Sharon Metcalf Sounds like an excellent book, one I would love. Thanks for sharing your review Patti.


Cheri Wonderful review, Patty! I really enjoyed reading this but your review brought back so many memories of this lovely book!


Karen Awesome review! I loved this book!


message 14: by Kathleen (new) - added it

Kathleen Earlier today I was looking at this book. Great review, Patty. It sounds like my kind of book.


message 15: by B the BookAddict (new)

B the BookAddict Well done, Patty!


PattyMacDotComma Candi wrote: "A fabulous review, Patty! This really was a great book and your review really brought back so much of it for me."

I'm glad, Candi. That's what I enjoy about reviews too - kind of another chance to enjoy a book. Thanks. :)


PattyMacDotComma Sharon wrote: "Sounds like an excellent book, one I would love. Thanks for sharing your review Patti."

Thanks Sharon - hope you like it too.


message 18: by PattyMacDotComma (last edited Aug 28, 2016 05:13AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

PattyMacDotComma Cheri wrote: "Wonderful review, Patty! I really enjoyed reading this but your review brought back so many memories of this lovely book!"

I'm so pleased, and thanks, Cheri. Nice to remember sometimes, eh?


PattyMacDotComma Karen wrote: "Awesome review! I loved this book!"

thanks - me too!


PattyMacDotComma Kathleen wrote: "Earlier today I was looking at this book. Great review, Patty. It sounds like my kind of book."

I don't think you'll be disappointed. Thanks.


PattyMacDotComma B the BookAddict wrote: "Well done, Patty!"

Thanks, B :)


message 22: by Stef (new) - added it

Stef Rozitis Sounds like a sensitive and worthwhile read! Will look out for this one


PattyMacDotComma Stef wrote: "Sounds like a sensitive and worthwhile read! Will look out for this one"

I sure think it's worthwhile. It's unusual to me to have such a mix of delightful humour and imagination mixed in with the horrors of some realities (not mine, thankfully).

I know you read a lot of feminist stuff (you know what I mean), so I'd be interested to see if you think he got the voices right for these characters. I never thought about the author being a man until I happened to think of his name. Good writer.


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