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“Little Bee” from the Notables List

I have a new way of evaluating how well a book is working for me–do I find it engaging when I read it in the evening? Many of you recall that I’m a morning person, and if a book doesn’t make it for me around 5 a.m. on Saturday morning, it never will. Conversely, if I find a book compelling after dinner, well, THAT’s a good book.

Little Bee” by Chris Cleave came from the fiction portion of this year’s American Library Association Notable Books list AND I enjoyed reading most of it in the evening. I hadn’t exactly been looking forward to reading it. I knew that it involved a girl who’d been chased and … I wasn’t sure what… in Nigeria before ending up in England.

As it turns out, I enjoyed reading this, despite the intense Nigerian scenes of Little Bee’s sister’s death, and a British woman’s violent act to save Little Bee. The story is told in the alternating voices of Little Bee and Sarah, that woman.  Part of the effectiveness of the story lies in the contrast between Little Bee as a traumatized and marginalized undocumented alien and Sarah, a stylish magazine editor. Neither is all bad or good, and yet both won my sympathy. I admire the way that Cleave doles out pieces of their stories and weaves secrets together. Sarah’s story is that of a regular person who finds herself in the midst of a bewildering and dangerous situation. She wants to rise to that, despite her clear shortcomings. Now that I think of it, Little Bee, too, is a regular person who finds herself in the midst of a bewildering and dangerous situation.

I’ll recommend it to readers who appreciate a fine sense of plot and timing and who are willing to work through difficulty to consider how the human spirit responds to evil.

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