Book Jacket Synopsis: “Clear-eyed and spirited, Taylor Greer grew up poor in rural Kentucky with the goals of avoiding pregnancy and getting away. But when she heads west with high hopes and a barely functional car, she meets the human condition head-on. By the time Taylor arrives in Tucson, Arizona, she has acquired a completely unexpected child, a three-year-old American Indian girl named Turtle, and must somehow come to terms with both motherhood and the necessity of putting down roots. Hers is a story about love and friendship, abandonment and belonging, and the discovery of surprising resources in apparently empty places.”
Review: I’ll preface this by saying that I am a HUGE Barbara Kingsolver fan. The Poisonwood Bible absolutely ranks in my top three books of all time (and likely falls in the #2 or possibly even #1 position, but I can’t play favorites with my top three). I’ve also read Homeland and Other Stories and Animal Dreams, both of which further convinced me that Kingsolver is one of the best fiction writers of this century. That being said, I could definitely tell that The Bean Trees was her first novel. Perhaps this wouldn’t have been as apparent had I not already read The Poisonwood Bible, which is widely regarded as her seminal work. The Bean Trees has everything there is to love about Kingsolver books: lush landscapes, spirited and lovable (yet flawed) characters, and a deep appreciation for the natural world. Despite these strengths, I also felt that it lacked in certain facets of plot development and ultimately ended up coming across as slightly scattered. While Taylor learns about some of the challenges facing her Guatemalan refugee friends, Esperanza and Estevan, and about the role that Mattie, owner of “Jesus is Lord Used Tires,” played in helping them escape persecution, it still feels like Kingsolver just barely scrapes the surface with what could have been a more thoroughly-incorporated plot element. That being said, I loved the relationships between the characters, particularly between Taylor and Turtle and between Lou Ann and Taylor. As I learned while reading her other works, Kingsolver is pretty unstoppable when it comes to character creation. In conclusion, The Bean Trees is not my favorite Kingsolver novel but it is still an excellent work of fiction and a great example of masterful storytelling.