The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver: A review

I read The Bean Trees in August, 2009. Here is the review that I did at that time for the book.


The Bean Trees (Greer Family, #1)The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Members of the legume family can grow well in very poor soil.  That is because they are sustained by microorganisms called rhizobia that provide nitrogen to the plants through their roots.  The plants and the rhizobia prosper together in a symbiotic relationship - sort of like a family.  And that is the story of Taylor Greer.

She grew up in the unpromising soil of hardscrabble Kentucky, but she was sustained and grew strong on the love of her mother.  She grew up with a determination to avoid the teenage pregnancy that sidetracked so many girls that she knew and with an equal determination to get out of Kentucky.

When I started reading this book, I immediately recognized Taylor - or Missy, as she was called then.  My own childhood and adolescence and my experience of family was not that different from hers.  I felt an immediate kinship with her.

Missy, rechristened by herself as Taylor, does make it out of Kentucky in a rattletrap car that just barely survives all the way to Tucson.  Along the way, in Oklahoma, she acquires a child, a little Indian girl thrust into her arms by a desperate woman.  The reason for her desperation becomes evident later when Taylor bathes the child.

She calls the child Turtle because it seems to fit and in Tucson she meets Mattie and then Lou Ann and Esperanza and Estevan and, slowly, Taylor and Turtle begin to weave together the disparate family that will feed their roots and sustain them.

This is a wonderful book.  It is Kingsolver's first novel, published in 1988.  I had just recently read "The Poisonwood Bible" which is a far more complex book with a many-layered plot, but this is a very straightforward and, in some ways, simple story.  It engaged me from the first pages and if I had had time, I could have finished it in one sitting.  It is that readable and that short.

This is a book for those who want to believe in the indominability of the human spirit and that sometimes, even in a world that often seems to have no more room or compassion for refuges, good can triumph.      

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  1. Somehow I missed this book of Kingsolver's. Prodigal Summer was my favorite. All of her books are different..

    1. I've never read a Kingsolver book that I didn't enjoy - and I've read most of them.

  2. I enjoyed this book, too, but my favorite of her novels was "Flight Behavior." It was the first Kingsolver book I had ever read, and I absolutely loved it. Thanks for reminding me that I need to check out more of her books before gardening season begins.

    1. I agree that "Flight Behavior" is wonderful. It may well be my favorite, too.


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