Thursday, April 9, 2015

Review: The Bean Trees

The Bean Trees, Barbara Kingsolver

The Bean Trees is Barbara Kingsolver's debut novel. Kingsolver is one of my favourite authors and The Poisonwood Bible is one of my favourite books so my expectations were high. Like The Poisonwood Bible, there are memorable characters here. And like Prodigal Summer, there are vivid descriptions of the landscape. The Bean Trees, however, doesn't quite have the lasting impact of either.

The novel follows Taylor Greer as she sets out to leave her small-town Kentucky life behind and start fresh in Arizona. Along the way, she ends up with a baby that someone leaves in the passenger seat of her car. As ridiculous as that might sound, it is actually a good story that touches on a lot of social issues. Kingsolver doesn't really unpack those issues, so it was a little unsatisfying when I was expecting something meatier. At the same time, the book probably would have been depressing if she had.

I liked Taylor a lot and wanted her to succeed. I also enjoyed her humour. She actually reminded me of Sookie Stackhouse, maybe with more street smarts. The one thing I did have a hard time getting my head around was how quickly and easily she decided to keep the baby. She prides herself on making it through high school without getting pregnant and looks down on the other girls in her small town who weren't so lucky, or who got married and pregnant right after graduating. So, she leaves to make something of herself in a better place and the first thing she does is...pick up a baby? That contradiction is never addressed.

Overall, this was an enjoyable and well written debut novel. If you're a Kingsolver fan, it's worth reading. If you haven't read any of her novels yet, I'd suggest starting with The Poisonwood Bible or Prodigal Summer instead.

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