Tina's Reviews > Little Bee

Little Bee by Chris Cleave
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Mar 17, 2010

it was ok

** spoiler alert ** **SPOILERS**
In a way I feel sorry for Chris Cleave ... I wonder how he felt after seeing what the publishing and marketing machine crafted as the back cover promo copy for his book. Really. Not that I would have liked the book more had they not been so brash and marketing machine-y, but I may have given it more of a fair chance.

“We don’t want to tell you WHAT HAPPENS in this book. It is a truly SPECIAL STORY and we don’t want to spoil it. NEVERTHELESS, you need to know enough to buy it, so we will just say this. This is the story of two women. Their lives collide one fateful day, and one of them has to make a terrible choice, the kind of choice we hope you never have t face. Two years later, they meet again—the story starts there… Once you’ve read it, you will want to tell your friends what happens. The magic is in how the story unfolds.”

I cry foul. The story unfolds as other stories unfold. Nothing is surprising, nothing happens that you could not see coming chapters earlier. There is nothing new in this book ... not in terms of writing, not in terms of plot, not in terms of structure. I understand the publishing behemoth and the machinations it goes through to build a buzz. It’s just so full of itself sometimes that I want to scream into a pillow. And this was one of those times I wanted to scream into a pillow.

LITTLE BEE is remarkably average. It is a book ripe for Oprah book club picking … if there’s a heart sting to pull, the author makes a go of it. But instead of tugging at my heartstrings, the book makes a relentless grab, the threads unraveling until any feeling I was holding for the characters was gone and I was left feeling threadbare. I know horrible things happen in Nigeria and countless other countries. I just didn’t like the parade of clichés rolled out by LITTLE BEE in an effort to drive home the point.

No character was a surprise. Sarah is the young, strong, career-minded, wealthy, white, British woman who runs her own fashion magazine … struggling (ever-so-not-convincingly) with losing her former self as a "real" journalist . . . having a long-term affair with a man that began w/in 30 minutes of her meeting him . . . having a husband that kills himself after that "terrible choice" on that "fateful day" on the beach in Nigeria, where they were trying to "save their marriage" . . . having a son who ever-so-quirkily will only dress in Batman costume and insists on being called Batman (and who, at four or five, can’t seem to speak beyond the level of a 2-1/2 year old). I couldn’t stand her. Sarah comes to learn some very important life lessons from Little Bee, a Nigerian refugee and orphan. Little Bee escapes the horrors of Nigeria and a detention center and finds her way to the middle of an idyllic white setting, where Cleave puts her on a mission to absolve guilt and change lives.

Cleave tells the story in the voices of Little Bee and Sarah, in alternating chapters. For the first few of Little Bee’s chapters I enjoyed his writing and found his characterization strong. I never liked Sarah’s chapters; I never believed in her as a person. She was a woman full of stereotype written by a man who perhaps should have written from a man’s perspective. Women writing as men, men writing as women . . . it rarely works out very well. But Little Bee’s character is much more gender neutral, and I think that’s why it works better for Cleave. When Little Bee would talk of finding a way to kill herself in any situation, in case the men came, I believed it. When Little Bee talked of telling the story to the girls back at home, I imagined how hard it really would be to relate the events to someone in that distant land.

Overall, I found the book contrived and patronizing. As someone said in another review: "Little Bee's story is brutal and important, and yet it is filled with eye-rolling cutesiness and an unnecessary amount of predictable padding. Too sweet for this reader." I'd have to agree. Rumor has it the book's being made into a movie, which isn't surprising.

All that said, I know I will still recommend it to a number of my customers, because I know they will love it. And I guess that's the art of the handsell . . . recommending what fits a customer, not what you wish would fit him/her.





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Reading Progress

March 17, 2010 – Started Reading
March 17, 2010 – Shelved
March 20, 2010 – Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-8 of 8) (8 new)

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message 1: by c.vance (new)

c.vance c.vance Good luck with that...


Tina ... oy.


Petra X Maybe you could consider a spoiler flag? I respect your opinion, we all like different things, but I differ from it myself and do feel that the story shouldn't be revealed.


Tina Fair enough. I added a spoilers alert at the top.


Rozanne Your review is so much better written than the book. I haven't read such a poorly written book in a very long time--it made me want to scream in agony--the Sarah-Lawrence/Sarah-Andrew dialogue was incredibly hackneyed and unrealistic. And the descriptions of sex? Laughable. Anyway, thanks for writing such a good review. I agree with all your criticisms.


Brian DiNitto I am confused. You say Chris Cleave can't write well in a woman's voice, yet you love his voice for Little Bee. You consider Little Bee gender neutral, yet look at all the caring and nurturing she does for almost everyone she met. Also I am sure that the hype wrapping has to do with the publisher, not the author. I like my review to shine on the content of the book, not the packaging.


Tina Brian wrote: "I am confused. You say Chris Cleave can't write well in a woman's voice, yet you love his voice for Little Bee. You consider Little Bee gender neutral, yet look at all the caring and nurturing sh..."

And here I thought my review was pretty non-confusing. Here's more direct: I found the story contrived, and the writing to have very brief moments of beauty. For that I gave it two stars instead of one. I'll be sure to check out your shining reviews, though. Thanks!


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