Review: Little Bee

Recap: For a modern upper-middle class woman living in England, it’s rare that you befriend a teenaged, Nigerian illegal immigrant. But that’s exactly what happens in Little Bee, the story of a very unlikely, but beautiful friendship. The book begins with Little Bee, the Nigerian illegal immigrant, escaping from a detention center in England, where she has lived the past two years. She leaves with a few other illegal immigrants, but Little Bee is the only one who has ties in England. She met a British couple years ago and tracks them down in the hopes they’ll take her in and protect her from deportation.

But this isn’t just a story about Little Bee. It’s also one about Sarah — the woman who Little Bee seeks out. Sarah is a magazine editor, caught up in her own world, which consists of a depressed husband, a wonderful lover, and her 4-year-old son, Charlie.

When Little Bee finds Sarah, Sarah’s husband has just committed suicide. Despite her bittersweet bereavement period, she allows Little Bee to enter her life. They share a secret, a strong tie that is explained as their friendship grows and they become part of each others’ future instead of just their past.

Analysis: This book is gripping. The friendship between the two women is beautiful. But the novel also touches on a number of serious social issues — race, illegal immigration, the Nigerian oil conflict. Reading this, I learned about a number of issues I never paid much attention to.

It raises awareness about how difficult it is for a woman like Little Bee to get a fresh start, but the fact that author Chris Cleave makes her so positive, smart, and brave makes it a particularly exciting read.As the story continues, the reader starts to think maybe Little Bee really can start over in this new, modern country. And as the readers’ hope grows for Little Bee, so does the appreciation for Sarah, who initially seems rather selfish.

What pulls the reader in is the back-and-forth narration between Little Bee and Sarah. They both detail their secret bond in memories and flashbacks, keeping the readers on their toes.

But after such a great read, I was upset to find I truly disliked the ending. It was so ambiguous, I thought I had overlooked a major plot point somewhere. Upon finishing the book, I Googled it to find that I wasn’t the only who felt jipped. In fact, the ending is pretty controversial. After reading about these hopeful women who just want a happy ending, we can’t tell if the ending is happy or not — though it steers toward the “not” direction, and that is disappointing.

MVP: Sarah. Many people didn’t enjoy Sarah’s character, but as a journalist, I did. Initially Sarah is selfish and somewhat unlikable but her character develops throughout the book and reveals her good side. What she does for Little Bee is incredible.

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2 responses to “Review: Little Bee

  1. Lauren

    Lara ~
    Just read Little Bee and found your review. I think you might really enjoy the debut ‘A Walk Across the Sun’ by Corban Addison. It too deals with issues of injustice – specifically human trafficking in an international context. I’ll link the author website and book trailer below, but I do think that readers who enjoyed Little Bee should check out this intense, yet beautiful and hopeful story.

  2. Irini

    Hi Lara,
    I totally agree with your review on Little Bee. I loved reading it, but I disliked the ending. Although: It was not really disliking it, but being disappointed that there is no clear happing ending for the two. What I thought at first sight was that it’s up to me to decide whether I want to be an optimist who believes in the good at the end of this dramatic story or whether I tend to be a pessimist who does not believe in the good outcome of Little Bee’s and Sarah’s struggles. Actually, I decided to believe the author intended to write, what I consider, a more realistic ending. From my perspective, Sarah’s and Little Bee’s relationship and the way they proceed together is the positive thing. Both of them undergo a very positive change of personality, it would be too far-fetched to expect that the world around them changed simultaneously. My conclusion after having finished the read is that it takes everyone on this planet to move to change things to the better. Litte Bee and Sarah cannot succeed at the end because the people surrounding them have not changed yet. But still it is a hopeful story to me, and at least the author let it open to speculations about the ending. Because it is nowhere clearly said that Little Bee actually gets caught, as you said above.

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