Review: The Bean Trees

Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Trees has a lot of the same themes as her best known work, The Poisonwood Bible: family (and what makes one), culture shock, morality, and how outsiders are treated. Unlike PB, this is a quick read, less upsetting, but also a bit less impactful, at least to me.

Missy/Taylor Greer is brought up in rural Kentucky, and is determined to make her way out of it someday. She stays in school, avoids getting pregnant (apparently half of her female class ends up dropping out of school because of pregnancy), and even gets a job at a hospital. After buying a car and saying goodbye to her loving, fantastic mother (seriously, loved her!), she takes off for the mountains of the west. And along the way, picks up the one thing she told herself she never wanted: a child. Taylor and Turtle, the silent American Indian girl she’s now caring for, make their way to Tucson and make a family for themselves among a cast of eclectic, warm characters.

Almost despite myself, I really liked everyone in the book. Taylor is so naive as to be almost childlike, and like a child, she expresses wonder and acceptance of all the good she’s shown. Mattie, garage owner and an immigrants-rights advocate (well, more than advocate…) was straight-up awesome. Lou Ann had me laughing, and even reminded me a bit of my own mother. Again, Kingsolver proves that she just writes great, strong, funny, well-rounded female characters that you’d be happy to call your friends.

The one thing I couldn’t get over–and perhaps this is a limitation on my part, as a reader–was how differently I would have handled everything from Taylor. Her way made for much more interesting reading, I’m sure, but it stretched my suspension of disbelief that a) a woman tells you to take a baby and b) you DO, without demanding answers or checking over the baby to see if it’s injured or anything. It’s what the whole novel is built on, and it was pretty shaky ground for me.

Otherwise, though, I did love the characters themselves, and the themes that families can be made, not born. Taylor’s relationship with Turtle was really moving, as a mother and daughter who sort of fell into one anothers’ lives and ended up being exactly what the other needed. Estevan and Esperanza’s side story was also handled sensitively and interestingly, and gave the book an added dimension that I wasn’t expecting–immigration and morality.

Overall it’s interesting to see how her writing and story-telling has matured, from The Bean Trees all the way to Prodigal Summer. I would recommend it to fans of Kingsolver and women’s lit, definitely.

This is my final fiction read for the Women Unbound Challenge. One nonfiction left to go before I reach the Bluestocking level! 🙂

Bookwanderer Rating: Three and a half stars

Bookwanderer Tagline: Taylor and Turtle make two!


3 Responses to “Review: The Bean Trees”

  1. 1 Iris April 12, 2010 at 1:56 pm

    I have to admit that I haven’t read Poisonwood Bible (or any of Kingsolver’s books), but I am intrigued and I hope to be able to relate your reading experiences to mine soon!

  2. 2 Christy April 15, 2010 at 12:21 am

    I really liked The Bean Trees. I remember Taylor as having a good heart and integrity but she was not always quick on the uptake in some aspects. Like the lady with Parkinson’s or not fully comprehending her Guatemalan friends’ situation, though she does catch on and is willing to readjust her view. So her taking Turtle was just another thing where she didn’t know the ‘right’ answer and did something that other more quickly reacting people would not do. I think I liked the sequel all right as well, though I accidentally read it before reading The Bean Trees.

  3. 3 Susan December 31, 2011 at 10:53 am

    Just finished reading Bean Tree, it has taken me 20 years to finally read it. I recommended it for our book club. I am curious to see what everyone thought. I was in a reading slump, and this was a different kind of book. It reminded me, of my teen and young adult years. This book reminded me of the radical 60’s and 70’s. Social justice, ecology, immigration, adoption rights, etc. Also I liked the early setting, and bringing her culture of living in Ky into the book, and her lifestyle with food, and science. I enjoyed it, and it was refreshing. Tired of the same thing, women pouring out their heart, with problems. This was a good take. Reminded me in the beginning of Butterfly’s Daughter.

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