Review: The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver

I enjoyed this. It was a quick read which felt quite light even though it touches on some pretty tough themes.

The novel is about Taylor, a Kentucky girl who leaves her home town to escape a dead end future and make her own life. She buys an old car and decides to set down roots wherever the car breaks down.  She never could have anticipated what she encounters on her state-crossing journey and quite by accident, she ends up with the one thing she left her home town to avoid: a child.

It is a story about friendship and family, but not always in the way that we think about the ‘traditional’ family. Taylor and her newly acquired child are not related by blood but they prove that this can be irrelevant – family can mean much more than genetics. In some ways it is a coming of age novel, in that Taylor learns to accept responsibility along with the freedom and independence that she was determined to find. Her journey and the people that she meets along the way cause her to learn a lot and to think about issues that she may never have realised existed before meeting and talking to them.

I liked the colloquial style of Taylor’s dialogue and the conversations between her and her friend, Lou Ann. There were moments of tenderness but also humour. Taylor’s no-nonsense and, at times, blunt turn of phrase was brilliant and really created a likeable character. I also liked the focus on the female characters and that Taylor and Lou-Ann’s friendship was one of the main relationships in the novel  (I find that unless you’re reading a chick flick the female friendship is not often a relationship that is explored in fiction very much). There was a hint of romantic interest and relationships in the novel but this did not overshadow the other elements of the story.

Despite some of the horrors that the characters face, in many ways the novel was uplifting to read  because it is so much about overcoming adversity. Taylor doesn’t exactly have an easy life and those around her have experienced worse. Yet all the characters possess a strength and determination that is inspiring. There is a lot of hurt in the novel but there is also a lot of love.

I’ll definitely be reading Kingsolver’s sequel, Pigs in Heaven. I’m a fan.

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