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The Bean Trees

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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 Turt 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 for putting down roots. Hers is a story about love and friendship, abandonment and belonging, and the discovery of surprising resources in apparently empty places.


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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 Turt 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 for putting down roots. Hers is a story about love and friendship, abandonment and belonging, and the discovery of surprising resources in apparently empty places.

30 review for The Bean Trees

  1. 5 out of 5

    Larissa

    My stepmother was the type of woman who painted the walls in our house eighteen different colors and wore turquoise-encrusted Kokopelli jewelry to show how in tune she was with the local culture. She hung Frida Khalo prints on the bedroom walls and thought that speaking ‘Food Spanish’ to waiters made her nearly fluent. She also compelled my sister and me to read a lot of Tony Hillerman paperbacks and other ‘local literature,’ which I am now almost positive included The Bean Trees. Because after My stepmother was the type of woman who painted the walls in our house eighteen different colors and wore turquoise-encrusted Kokopelli jewelry to show how in tune she was with the local culture. She hung Frida Khalo prints on the bedroom walls and thought that speaking ‘Food Spanish’ to waiters made her nearly fluent. She also compelled my sister and me to read a lot of Tony Hillerman paperbacks and other ‘local literature,’ which I am now almost positive included The Bean Trees. Because after reading the first chapter of this book, I got the strangest sense of de ja vu. This is probably appropriate in its way, given that the reason I picked it up in the first place was to suppress a bit of homesickness. Because a couple times a year—amidst the April snowstorms and one too many guys on the subway who splay themselves across two seats while playing audio-enabled Snood on their cell phones—I start pining for the homeland. I turned to this book hoping to get a good dose of Tucsonan flavor to keep me going until I had the time and money to go home and remember why I left in the first place. I have to say, though, The Bean Trees didn’t really do the trick. Because even though I appreciate details about the Sun Tran bus line and the way it smells in the desert when it rains (the thing I miss the most about Tucson), there’s more to invoking a landscape than just listing of things that are really there. A good book about New York, for instance, isn’t good because it mentions the Empire State Building or talks about people taking taxis. It is a major (and frequent) misstep in novels to try and just be factually accurate about a place, without ever getting into how it really feels there. To be fair, though, while the landscape wasn’t terribly reminiscent of Arizona, the writing style really was in its own (probably accidental) way. Because Ms. Kingsolver really illuminates that deep Southwestern flare for ‘characters’ and ‘culture’—a fondness for highlighting how darn quirky desert folk really are, and a gringo’s deep and abiding love of all things latino. (As a side note, though: if we’re going to just start dropping real places into the book for authenticity, I would have swapped the ‘Jesus Is Lord’ tire place for the church that has ‘Happiness is Submission to God’ painted on it—a slogan which often gets altered to ‘Happiness is Submission to Godzilla!’ by persistent neighborhood delinquents…)

  2. 5 out of 5

    Erika

    Marietta Greer has just completed two miracles of her rural Kentucky upbringing: graduating high school and avoiding pregnancy. To celebrate, she jumps in her ’55 Volkswagen bug and rides West, leaving her job at a Kentucky hospital counting platelets to stay true to her plan “to drive out of Pittman County one day and never look back” (11). On the road, she changes her name to Taylor and finds herself in Tucson, Arizona with a broken down car and a Cherokee baby in her arms. Taylor is an honest, Marietta Greer has just completed two miracles of her rural Kentucky upbringing: graduating high school and avoiding pregnancy. To celebrate, she jumps in her ’55 Volkswagen bug and rides West, leaving her job at a Kentucky hospital counting platelets to stay true to her plan “to drive out of Pittman County one day and never look back” (11). On the road, she changes her name to Taylor and finds herself in Tucson, Arizona with a broken down car and a Cherokee baby in her arms. Taylor is an honest, straight-forward protagonist that speaks with youthful tact and an open heart. Through her, Kingsolver voices the morals of an ideal United States brought down with prejudice and misunderstanding. The Bean Trees isn’t a celebration of the Southwest and its adopted mixed-heritage culture as it is a vision into a world stricken by the hypocrisy of that adoption. Comparing her rural Kentucky hometown and Tucson, Arizona together to discover they’re as foreign to each other as to be separate countries, Taylor declares herself an immigrant in her own right and easily warm up to Mattie--the local mechanic--and the plight of the hunted illegal immigrants coming and going from the sanctuary rooms above her garage. She is naive, but warm-hearted, as she struggles to comprehend the idea that a person can not only commit illegal acts, but can be illegal in the eyes of the law, too. When I began the novel, I was not expecting to read about political and human rights issues. I was really surprised to discover Taylor navigating prejudices that are extremely close to home. Now that I’ve finished, I’m blown away with Taylor’s sweet-below-the-surface personality and firm beliefs in the extension of natural human rights to everyone, not just citizens. She finds more in common with Estevan, Esperanza, and Lou Ann Ruiz--her roommate--than she does with the other local folks she meets in town. Themselves displaced from their own points of origin, Taylor and her group form fast friendships and a loyal support system as binding as any family she could ever imagine. Together they help each other survive in a foreign land, everyone as much part rhizobia as part wisteria vine. They are an incongruous family, the titular bean trees, a confusing connotation of the more widely known and beautifully named wisteria vine. Kingsolver’s debut novel is charmingly powerful and subtle in its celebration of families, whatever the form. I’m also entirely prejudiced when it comes to immigration issues and agree with Kingsolver’s politics here (there are a lot of people who will not). I think it’d be difficult to get through this novel coming at it with a closed or contrary mind that would disallow for the suspension of one’s own beliefs. The Bean Trees is filled with rich sentiments that call for an open mind and are impossible to ignore if you want to experience (and enjoy) the book to its fullest. The best part about the book was the dialogue. Taylor and Lou Ann’s colloquial conversations are disarming and honest. It’s very easy to fall in love with their (and everyone else’s) quirks--they bloom from the pages as studies of characteristics we’ve all encountered before; Lou Ann, the worrisome young mother; Virgie, the bigoted senior citizen; Mattie, the bleeding heart. Because of this, The Bean Trees readily comes to life, vividly reminding us of real life issues still very pertinent to our society, even after twenty years. Even little Turtle, who speaks her strange vegetarian language, manages to communicate effectively, if a bit eccentrically, and found in me a sympathetic heart. She speaks a recipe of nourishment, sprinkled here with food, there with a small army of ‘Ma’s determined to raise her right. Like Taylor and Lou Ann finding reprieve in each other’s speech, she finds solace in surrounding her auditory world with comfortable, familiar things. One of my favorites scenes is a complete spoiler, but I think it’s the most powerful in the entire book: emotional and transcendent, reaching far beyond the actions on the page. I’ve dwelt on the political issues, but what drives the narrative are the characters, their personal journeys, and the relationships they form with each other. While it may be difficult to appreciate those aspects without also understanding the politics of what motivates them, it’s hard not to grip the book firm with both hands when Taylor, Turtle, Estevan, and Esperanza sit nervously in Mr. Jonas Wilford Armistead’s office, certain that any sudden movements will break the spell and destroy not one, but four lives. I held my breath and absolutely could not put The Bean Trees down or risk psychologically damaging someone. I had nothing to compare Kingsolver’s writing to. This is the only book of hers I’ve read so I can’t say where on a Kingsolver scale this would land, but I really liked it. What am I talking about? I loved this book. This is the type of literature I think everyone should read and try to understand. It opens a dialogue that I hope engages people in a positive way.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Siria

    I quite liked this, though it's obvious that this was Kingsolver's first novel. The main character, Taylor, is unevenly developed--she's too mutable, changing to fit what Kingsolver wants to say or how she wants to say it at various points in the book--and many of the other characters are types, not people, however finely observed. The plotline involving the refugees from Guatemala in particular was a little too anvilicious. And while it's set very definitely in the American South, the novel did I quite liked this, though it's obvious that this was Kingsolver's first novel. The main character, Taylor, is unevenly developed--she's too mutable, changing to fit what Kingsolver wants to say or how she wants to say it at various points in the book--and many of the other characters are types, not people, however finely observed. The plotline involving the refugees from Guatemala in particular was a little too anvilicious. And while it's set very definitely in the American South, the novel didn't seem reminiscent of it--I never really got a picture of Tuscon or Oklahoma in my head--because there was description but no feel. What drew me into this book, though, were the hints of how vivid her writing would become by the time of The Poisonwood Bible: there are some really sharp and oddly beautiful observations, and when she's not trying too hard to drive home a point, her dialogue is nicely observed. Interesting, too, to see that is a book in which men are characterised almost solely by their absence. Enjoyable for the style and the promise, but not for the substance, I think.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Natalie

    I have to admit, this book really did a number on me. It was recommended to me from a friend, so my expectations were high, but after the first few chapters I was was not getting into it. The narrator's first-person voice was simple, non-descriptive, and frankly just a bit too naive to handle for an entire novel. But the story was interesting, so I kept going. And the thing is, so does Taylor, the main character. As she charges her way through a haphazard journey to the Southwest, she begins to g I have to admit, this book really did a number on me. It was recommended to me from a friend, so my expectations were high, but after the first few chapters I was was not getting into it. The narrator's first-person voice was simple, non-descriptive, and frankly just a bit too naive to handle for an entire novel. But the story was interesting, so I kept going. And the thing is, so does Taylor, the main character. As she charges her way through a haphazard journey to the Southwest, she begins to grow up right before your eyes, and so does her narrative voice. Slowly, her language becomes more mature, as do her observations. A story that started out very basic and straightforward becomes rich and multi-faceted. By the end I was shocked at the transformation that happened in just 200+ pages, just as Taylor must have been to see herself and her world change in less than a year. I now have nothing but love for this adorable book. So roll your eyes all you want at the girl in the first few chapters, she'll grow on you.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Richard Derus

    Real Rating: 1.5* of five I made a huge mistake. I thought this was The Beans of Egypt, Maine. It wasn't...it was the hallucinations of a pregnant and sleep-deprived Kingsolver transmuted to fiction. I daresay its fans would say "art;" I beg to differ. Like the unbearable gynergy of The Mists of Avalon, the fog of womanness that enshrouds this book blocked my view of its merits.

  6. 4 out of 5

    R. Kitt

    A girl gets out of her small town, after high school, to start a new life only to be saddled with a random child that was placed in her car. Her life is suddenly taking turns she did not expect.

  7. 3 out of 5

    Stacy

    When I first read this book several years ago, I was terribly impressed by 1) her writing style, which I really like - I wish I could write like that 2) the interesting plot of a single girl who had avoided teenage pregnancy through her young life only to end up with someone else's baby 3) the relationship she has with her mother, who believes her daughter "hung the moon in the sky" and can absolutely do no wrong. I think it would be wonderful if my daughters came out of their childhoods not pregn When I first read this book several years ago, I was terribly impressed by 1) her writing style, which I really like - I wish I could write like that 2) the interesting plot of a single girl who had avoided teenage pregnancy through her young life only to end up with someone else's baby 3) the relationship she has with her mother, who believes her daughter "hung the moon in the sky" and can absolutely do no wrong. I think it would be wonderful if my daughters came out of their childhoods not pregnant, and with the assurance that I think they are so wonderful.

  8. 3 out of 5

    jess

    "But nothing on this earth is guaranteed, when you get right down to it, you know? I've been thinking about that. About how your kids aren't really YOURS, they're just these people that you try to keep an eye on, and hope you'll all grow up someday to like eachother and still be in one piece. What I mean is, everything you get is really just on loan. Does that make sense?" "Sure,"I said. "Like library books. Sooner or later they've all got to go back into the nightdrop." I'm trying to get better a "But nothing on this earth is guaranteed, when you get right down to it, you know? I've been thinking about that. About how your kids aren't really YOURS, they're just these people that you try to keep an eye on, and hope you'll all grow up someday to like eachother and still be in one piece. What I mean is, everything you get is really just on loan. Does that make sense?" "Sure,"I said. "Like library books. Sooner or later they've all got to go back into the nightdrop." I'm trying to get better about listening to more audiobooks in the car and less Top 40s best hits of today and your school days. Allow me to be perfectly clear: there is entertainment value in your child knowing all the words to Soulja Boy's romantic serenade "Kiss Me Through the Phone," but it's also rewarding for him to say that Barbara Kingsolver is a good storyteller, discuss immigrants, refugees, and murderous South American regimes on the way home from the bus stop, and groan when the narrator announces the last disc. "There's a sequel! We'll read it! Don't worry," I offered. I picked The Bean Trees to rehabituate myself to the life of an audiobook commuter because I remembered reading another Barbara Kingsolver book in college, and I remembered her writing to be funny and engaging, I remembered she leans toward female protagonists that don't suck, and she wrote that book everyone loves, Animal Vegetable Miracle. I keep meaning to read AVM, but it's got such a long wait at the library. The Bean Trees had no waiting at all, and Sue Monk Kidd said it was one of her all-time favorites it in the Goodreads September newsletter. That's enough good reasons. So I "read" the audiobook of The Bean Trees, and I enjoyed it. The pace of the story is occasionally more of a stroll than a walk, the characters fluctuate in ways that are more convenient for the plot than authentically human, and the dialogue trails off occasionally, leaving the reader hanging. All these things can be annoying, or charming, and I think they work well enough here. So, yes, it reads a little bit like a first novel, which it is. I was quite surprised to realize this was written in 1988 - a number of the sentiments and political views seem timely and contemporary, like Native parental rights & US immigration/refugee policies. This book has feminist characters and stories, it's structured around unconventional families, and includes an emphasis on community support in a way that's not contrived, hokey, or idealistic. Special bonus for the most amazing business name ever: Jesus is Lord Used Tires. The most important things I hope I remember about this book: 1. The new year started on July 12, my birthday. 2. They spend a lot of time in Oklahoma, which I have done. 3. The ladies in this book are smart, independent, and they talk to each other about real life. 4. I just love a good, epic road trip with life-altering consequences. 5. There's a lady whose "power color" is red, and she wears it all the time. I love people with power colors. 6. The theme of unintentional single motherhood & parenting in a fairly unconventional way.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Wyndy

    “When I drove over the Pittman line, I made two promises to myself. One I kept, the other I did not.” Marietta Greer, in her early 20’s, left Pittman, Kentucky alone in a 1955 VW bug with no windows, no back seat, and no starter. Her first promise to herself was to get a new name: “I wasn’t crazy about anything I had been called up to that point in life, and this seemed like the time to make a clean break.” Her second promise was to drive west until her car quit running and stay there. When Marie “When I drove over the Pittman line, I made two promises to myself. One I kept, the other I did not.” Marietta Greer, in her early 20’s, left Pittman, Kentucky alone in a 1955 VW bug with no windows, no back seat, and no starter. Her first promise to herself was to get a new name: “I wasn’t crazy about anything I had been called up to that point in life, and this seemed like the time to make a clean break.” Her second promise was to drive west until her car quit running and stay there. When Marietta/Missy hits Taylorsville, IL, still headed no where in particular except away, she decides to become Taylor. Then she keeps driving west. But somewhere in central Oklahoma (“I had never imagined that any part of a round world could be so flat . . . Oklahoma made me feel there was nothing left to hope for”), her car gives out - a bent rocker arm - and she careens into a service station. After repairs that cost half her meager money, she goes in search of someplace she can get a cup of coffee and a bite to eat for a dollar before getting the hell out of Oklahoma (hint: promise #2). And in the parking lot of a bar with a neon Budweiser sign, a very thin Cherokee woman places a swaddled baby through the non-window of her car and turns away and leaves, with a warning not to follow her. And so begins the story of Taylor and Turtle Greer. These two meet some interesting characters when they final settle down in Tucson, Arizona: Lou Ann Ruiz, soon to be divorced from Angel Ruiz, and her new baby, Dwayne Ray; Mattie, sole proprietor of Jesus Is Lord Used Tires and human rights activist; Estevan and Esperanza, a young Indian couple from Guatemala carrying a heavy burden of sadness; and Lou Ann’s elderly spinster neighbors, Edna Poppy and Virgie Mae Parsons. These names alone should give you a pretty good feel for this book. Kingsolver writes unforgettable characters and dialogue, and her nature writing is superb. Few other writers, except maybe Willa Cather, can describe a desert thunderstorm or a night-blooming cereus or purple wisteria (“bean trees”) quite like Barbara Kingsolver. There is one scene where I really needed a tissue, but this is not a sappy, sentimental, crybaby book - it is a book about real people dealing with real life, and some fabulous descriptions of the natural world around us. Recommend to all.

  10. 3 out of 5

    Laura

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I love Barbara Kingsolver, but I can't believe this book was ever published. 1988 must have been a slow book year. I am being generous with the two stars, and I am only giving it that because there were a number of sections which showcased the excellent writer she would go on to become with experience. The characters are all so flat and undeveloped. Taylor makes no sense and was not likable. I never felt that she bonded with Turtle, always saw her as a burden then suddenly at the end, when she w I love Barbara Kingsolver, but I can't believe this book was ever published. 1988 must have been a slow book year. I am being generous with the two stars, and I am only giving it that because there were a number of sections which showcased the excellent writer she would go on to become with experience. The characters are all so flat and undeveloped. Taylor makes no sense and was not likable. I never felt that she bonded with Turtle, always saw her as a burden then suddenly at the end, when she was threatened with losing the child she was on a quest to keep her at all cost. If that child was molested as a baby, she would need years of serious professional help and Taylor is clueless. That child would have been better off with Estevan and Esperanza, and for all anybody knows that could actually be their child??? And the storyline about Estevan and Esperanza losing their child but that she was just being cared for by somebody else? That sounds really plausible. And I love how Taylor goes looking for a roommate and finds her new BFF from Tennessee. Oh, and the scene where the Indian woman puts the baby in Taylor's (Marietta's) car and she just calmly sits there watching the woman drive away in the truck. And the dialogue between Marietta and her mother does not sound like authentic dialogue. I guess I really didn't like this book at all. I read it super fast because that's what i do to get through a book i don't like, fast. I know it sounds counterintuitive but hey it's the truth.

  11. 3 out of 5

    Jenna

    So many things about this book bugged me. 1. Someone abandons a baby in your car and you don't get ahold of the police. 2. Someone abandons a baby, in your broken down car, you don't have a home or money or a destination in mind, so you decide to adopt baby. 3. You decide to adopt baby, but you spent the next several years being so bewildered by motherhood that you might as well have left baby in the car to be raised by coyotes. 4. Americans in general are directly responsible for the torture of inn So many things about this book bugged me. 1. Someone abandons a baby in your car and you don't get ahold of the police. 2. Someone abandons a baby, in your broken down car, you don't have a home or money or a destination in mind, so you decide to adopt baby. 3. You decide to adopt baby, but you spent the next several years being so bewildered by motherhood that you might as well have left baby in the car to be raised by coyotes. 4. Americans in general are directly responsible for the torture of innocent Guatemalans (in general) because an American manufactured telephone was disassembled and used for electric shock torture by the bad guy Guatemalans. This is your fault ugly American. You must take responsibility for any harm your good inventions cause when used completely out of context. 5. Where in the heck does she get her statistics for the random facts she throws in to odd character conversations? 1/4 of all girls are sexually assaulted by a relative? I'm an ER nurse. When you throw out a stat like that you better be ready to quote me your source and it better be peer reviewed.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jeanette "Astute Crabbist"

    This story was just a ton of fun! I whipped through it very quickly. Nice flow, and at times hilarious, especially in the first half of the book or so. The Southern expressions cracked me up, and I love the way she poked fun at the 80s New Age culture. The style is somewhat similar to Elizabeth Berg, but without so much heavy sentiment. (That's not a criticism of Berg. I like her books a lot, too.) I thought I hated this author because of Poisonwood Bible. I'm delighted to find out she can tell a This story was just a ton of fun! I whipped through it very quickly. Nice flow, and at times hilarious, especially in the first half of the book or so. The Southern expressions cracked me up, and I love the way she poked fun at the 80s New Age culture. The style is somewhat similar to Elizabeth Berg, but without so much heavy sentiment. (That's not a criticism of Berg. I like her books a lot, too.) I thought I hated this author because of Poisonwood Bible. I'm delighted to find out she can tell a great story.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Rusalka

    Barbara Kingsolver is an author I am terrified to revisit. Many years ago I read The Poisonwood Bible and I loved it. It was a hard read. It challenged me in so many ways, but it was epic and beautiful. Then, I read The Lacuna. Again the storytelling was magical, and with characters such as Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Leon Trotsky... so many real lives to carry you along. So I have always been hesitant, although eager, to pick up her other works. I had this one and I thought, if her first novel s Barbara Kingsolver is an author I am terrified to revisit. Many years ago I read The Poisonwood Bible and I loved it. It was a hard read. It challenged me in so many ways, but it was epic and beautiful. Then, I read The Lacuna. Again the storytelling was magical, and with characters such as Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Leon Trotsky... so many real lives to carry you along. So I have always been hesitant, although eager, to pick up her other works. I had this one and I thought, if her first novel sucks I can always put it down, and it's only 250pp. While a lot less refined than the others I mention above, the beautiful, captivating storytelling is evident and spellbinding again. I was also worried that with this book without those BIG themes - religion, colonialism, Mccarthyism, communism, art, etc - that this element of storytelling would be lost. It is not. Even stripped back to the bones of a simple story, southern girl wants to make something of herself somewhere else from home, Kingsolver's storytelling comes through. Are there issues with it being a first book? Of course. I couldn't quite connect with Taylor at times, although I wonder if that's from coming from different eras and worlds, as well as the skill of the writer. Is the book a good introduction, or even continuation, of Kingsolver's writing? I think so. I think those going into this short, early book expecting something on par to the books mentioned above are going to be disappointed. But going in with my hesitant trepidation of a fan who is worried of being let down, I was not disappointed.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Misse

    I really liked this book. Even more than Poisonwood Bible- which was good in a different way. This book reminds me of Where the Heart Is. It's a quick read- I think you'll like it.

  15. 3 out of 5

    DebsD

    I read The Poisonwood Bible a little over a year ago and loved it, so I'm not sure what made me take so long to pick up something else by Kingsolver (maybe that ever-so-long to-be-read list of mine...) I was aware that this was her debut novel and that some readers felt it wasn't as good as her later work, but I was pleasantly surprised. I agree that it doesn't demonstrate quite the same depth and polish as Poisonwood, but it's a bloody good debut and there are clear hints of how sharp and vivid I read The Poisonwood Bible a little over a year ago and loved it, so I'm not sure what made me take so long to pick up something else by Kingsolver (maybe that ever-so-long to-be-read list of mine...) I was aware that this was her debut novel and that some readers felt it wasn't as good as her later work, but I was pleasantly surprised. I agree that it doesn't demonstrate quite the same depth and polish as Poisonwood, but it's a bloody good debut and there are clear hints of how sharp and vividly-observed her writing would become. The story starts out seeming simple, but opens out to touch on important themes (politics, human rights, families of all shapes and sizes), but with a light touch which makes this very readable. The characters are engaging and there's a delightful protagonist who captured my attention early on. The main characters grow nicely as the story progresses - appropriate, given how young they are at the beginning. I'm determined to pick up my next Kingsolver read much more quickly than I got to this one!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Wanda

    This is a character driven novel and if you don’t like the characters, I advise you to set it down, walk away, and read something else. If, however, you are willing to spend a while getting to know the two young women featured, I think you will enjoy The Bean Trees. This is not an action novel—it’s an exploration of the lives of two young women from disadvantaged homes and how they sort out their lives. Who can’t appreciate the desire to get out of Dodge after graduation and see what else the wo This is a character driven novel and if you don’t like the characters, I advise you to set it down, walk away, and read something else. If, however, you are willing to spend a while getting to know the two young women featured, I think you will enjoy The Bean Trees. This is not an action novel—it’s an exploration of the lives of two young women from disadvantaged homes and how they sort out their lives. Who can’t appreciate the desire to get out of Dodge after graduation and see what else the world has to offer? Marietta re-names herself Taylor and truly starts over. She bravely starts out in a hunk-of-junk car and acquires a child along the way. LouAnn takes the more traditional route out—she gets married and moves with a husband, who proceeds to abandon his pregnant wife. But the two young women, from similar backgrounds, find one another and start building a firm friendship. There is a study in contrasts—young women from poor families and illegal immigrants. Taylor, who has felt the weight of discrimination all of her life, is suddenly confronted with her white privilege. LouAnn, who has never felt worthy of anything, is changed by a job where her enthusiasm and hard work are recognized and rewarded. Instead of mooning around, hoping for a transformation of her absent husband, she finally takes charge of her life. Both of them learn new ways to cope with life’s problems and new ways to look at themselves. These are issues that all young women face at some point in life (independence, marriage, careers, children, relations with parents)—how we each deal with them depend on the resources, both financial and friends/family, that we have available to us. I did find Taylor’s ready acceptance of the child, Turtle, to be less than believable. She had finished high school and I thought should have known better than to take off across country with someone else’s child, no matter how abused that child was. And I found the final solution to her legal position to be most unlikely. The significance of the title, which refers to the Wisteria vine, gets rather slapped in your face at the end of the book. The scraggly, ugly vine which, after the life-giving rain, produces luxuriant foliage and beautiful flowers, just as the underprivileged, poor girls flower into a happier life with some kindness from others. Having said that, I loved Turtle’s obsession with plants—wanting to read the seed catalog rather than a story book—even though I can see exactly how it fit into this really obvious message. Despite my perception of flaws, however, I found the book an enjoyable read. It made me appreciate my own age and station in life—I have said it before, I would never choose to be less than 40 again!

  17. 3 out of 5

    Black Elephants

    The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver is the older twin of a book I read a year ago called Pigs in Heaven. As the first book of the duo, it chronicles the flight of Taylor Greer from a small, hick lifestyle to a freer life she didn't expect. Basically, Taylor's managed to be educated and not get pregnant when she finally takes her car across the country. But one night in a bar, a mysterious Indian woman gives her a young girl. Suddenly, Taylor finds that she's a single mother with no prospects. W The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver is the older twin of a book I read a year ago called Pigs in Heaven. As the first book of the duo, it chronicles the flight of Taylor Greer from a small, hick lifestyle to a freer life she didn't expect. Basically, Taylor's managed to be educated and not get pregnant when she finally takes her car across the country. But one night in a bar, a mysterious Indian woman gives her a young girl. Suddenly, Taylor finds that she's a single mother with no prospects. What's a girl to do? While writing that summary, I was struck by how interesting the narrative elements seemed. Young, single, white woman faces world with young child that needs love; they triumph. However, I was, to put it bluntly, unimpressed by the entire book. The same thing happened with Pigs in Heaven. I liked the idea Kingsovler presented and I think she has brings real places into fiction, but I just was not impressed by the execution. Another complaint that I had about Pigs in Heaven, which also holds for this book, is that there were moments that made me believe this novel wouldn't age well. Again, I can't remember any particular points, but certain sections would pop out at me while I was reading and make me think.... Hmmmmm.... I know Barbara Kingsolver enjoys popularity among literary circles, but I'm really perplexed by it. Compared to the hundreds of other candidates who are more than qualified to be read in classrooms, why choose her? Oh yeah, there were bean trees, and they were a metaphor. But I never thought it worked.

  18. 3 out of 5

    Rachel

    ok this sucks. boring. terrible writing. overly schmaltzy. i give up. i give up on barbara kingsolver. i LOVED "the poisonwood bible." one of my favorites. i abhorred "animal, vegetable, miracle." i am one of those people that HAS to finish every book i start, but I couldn't get past page 150. i was hoping that it was just her attempt at nonfiction that failed, but now i can't get page 150 of this either. i'm starting to think "the poisonwood bible" was a fluke. no more barbara for me. no more. ok this sucks. boring. terrible writing. overly schmaltzy. i give up. i give up on barbara kingsolver. i LOVED "the poisonwood bible." one of my favorites. i abhorred "animal, vegetable, miracle." i am one of those people that HAS to finish every book i start, but I couldn't get past page 150. i was hoping that it was just her attempt at nonfiction that failed, but now i can't get page 150 of this either. i'm starting to think "the poisonwood bible" was a fluke. no more barbara for me. no more. 2 stars because it's gotten such good reviews, and maybe i'm too dumb/lazy to find what it is. also, it would make a good lifetime movie.

  19. 3 out of 5

    Lyn Elliott

    I've been dipping into Flight Behavior at the same time as I've read The Bean Trees, and it's immediately apparent just how far Kingsolver's writing has developed in the years since she wrote this, her first novel. Her two main female characters are young, uncertain of where they belong in the world, and slowly forge a close friendship, each facing up to difficult circumstances, both poor, both find they can d0 things they didn't think they could because they have built friendships. The plot is sh I've been dipping into Flight Behavior at the same time as I've read The Bean Trees, and it's immediately apparent just how far Kingsolver's writing has developed in the years since she wrote this, her first novel. Her two main female characters are young, uncertain of where they belong in the world, and slowly forge a close friendship, each facing up to difficult circumstances, both poor, both find they can d0 things they didn't think they could because they have built friendships. The plot is shaky, and I'm not tempted to read its sequel, 'Pigs in Heaven' which follows the story of Taylor and Turtle.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    In this delightful first novel by Kingsolver, she already has her skills working on all cylinders. The tale portrays a journey of a young woman, Taylor, to escape from a restricted life in a small town in Kentucky. Along the way, an abused 3-year old Cherokee girl is abandoned in her car in Oklahoma, whom she names Turtle, and incorporates into her life at the point her car falls apart in Tuscon, Arizona. With a relatively simple plot and a few characters, she captures well how even poor, uneduc In this delightful first novel by Kingsolver, she already has her skills working on all cylinders. The tale portrays a journey of a young woman, Taylor, to escape from a restricted life in a small town in Kentucky. Along the way, an abused 3-year old Cherokee girl is abandoned in her car in Oklahoma, whom she names Turtle, and incorporates into her life at the point her car falls apart in Tuscon, Arizona. With a relatively simple plot and a few characters, she captures well how even poor, uneducated people with big hearts can draw in a circle of fellow humans sufficient to handle many tough challenges and to make the essence of a joyful extended family. The impacts of poverty, classism, racism, child abuse, and persecution of political refugees from South America are some of the themes. Despite these subject lines, humor and personal triumphs abound in the telling. Books like this that make me both laugh and cry, as well as encapsulate visions of the universal in the particular, garner highest ratings from me. I place this one in the same ball park with novels of Kent Haruf and Billie Letts.

  21. 3 out of 5

    Julie

    Let me tell you something. . . if Barbara Kingsolver's fictional characters suddenly spring to life and buy houses in my beloved neighborhood. . . I'm moving. Is it because they are creeps and criminals? No. It's because they're boring and humorless and weird. I've officially read 3 of Kingsolver's novels now, and I haven't liked a single character. I enjoyed the story and the writing of Prodigal Summer, yet still managed to dislike every character. Poisonwood Bible and this one? No thanks. It's n Let me tell you something. . . if Barbara Kingsolver's fictional characters suddenly spring to life and buy houses in my beloved neighborhood. . . I'm moving. Is it because they are creeps and criminals? No. It's because they're boring and humorless and weird. I've officially read 3 of Kingsolver's novels now, and I haven't liked a single character. I enjoyed the story and the writing of Prodigal Summer, yet still managed to dislike every character. Poisonwood Bible and this one? No thanks. It's not even that the characters are unformed or inauthentic. They're just. . . blah. . . yuck. . . gag. I'd rather have my teeth cleaned than go out for coffee with any of these people. I have a collection of Kingsolver essays on my night stand, and I'm really going to give it the old college try, but. . . no more of her fiction for me.

  22. 3 out of 5

    Jamilka

    This Book was pleasant Things i like: 1.Female relationships, very strong i know Taylor wouldn't have made it without them. I love the relationship between Taylor and Turtle. This book is filled with motherly love. 2. Struggles- Very realistic (for her time) struggles. The book was truthful and lovable. The struggles were difficult because Taylor was dealing with something that she really wanted to avoid which is having a child. Taylor was always running away from every teenage girls practical fate This Book was pleasant Things i like: 1.Female relationships, very strong i know Taylor wouldn't have made it without them. I love the relationship between Taylor and Turtle. This book is filled with motherly love. 2. Struggles- Very realistic (for her time) struggles. The book was truthful and lovable. The struggles were difficult because Taylor was dealing with something that she really wanted to avoid which is having a child. Taylor was always running away from every teenage girls practical fate and it was a surprise to have her put into her life. The way it happened truly shocked me. This was really good for her first book.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Joyce

    Heartwarming. And much of it took place in my home town, Tucson, which added another layer of enjoyment. But most of all I loved the message of the bean trees and the underlying goodness of people.

  24. 3 out of 5

    Chris Gager

    Time for something completely different and some female authors as well. This author is pretty famous I guess and this book has thousands of reviews on G'reads. My paperback edition has a cover similar to this but not identical. Copyright 1988. So far ... the author leans on the Kountry Kute button rather heavily, but I'm OK with it - so far. I hope I don't get all worn out and such. Making the eccentric believable and compelling can be a challenge. My nephew's wife is from Kentucky, so I can im Time for something completely different and some female authors as well. This author is pretty famous I guess and this book has thousands of reviews on G'reads. My paperback edition has a cover similar to this but not identical. Copyright 1988. So far ... the author leans on the Kountry Kute button rather heavily, but I'm OK with it - so far. I hope I don't get all worn out and such. Making the eccentric believable and compelling can be a challenge. My nephew's wife is from Kentucky, so I can imagine the accent pretty well. - a sentence that doesn't work ... "The clouds were pink and fat and hilarious-looking, like the hippo ballerinas in a Disney movie." 1) I'm 71 years old an have seen lots of clouds, but never saw any that struck me as "hilarious-looking." and 2) the hippos ballerinas are in a specific Disney movie(Fantasia) and no other that I know of. The sentence should read "in THAT Disney movie" We've moved along past the halfway point at a leisurely pace. The writing is good and clear so I'm mostly enjoying the ride. The believe-ability factor is an issue but one can set it by and keep going. How long can Taylor keep a-hold of a child she has no legal right to be "in possession" of? We'll see, I guess. Moving on and ... oh no! Taylor is falling in love. And thus we enter dicey territory for authors. There a bazillion romance novels out there of dubious literary value and there are plenty more stories, like this one, which endeavor to take the issue "seriously." So far I'm NOT encouraged, but we'll see. It's VERY hard for an author to tell any kind of a "real" love story and not make it boring for a male reader(and for female readers too, just to be fair). It can, however, be done. Jane Austen and John Green come quickly to mind. I'd have to check my book list("Indecision" is another one) for more examples, but they're out there. - WTF are "beef shingles"? I assume the author is referring to "shit on a shingle," which is chipped beef or ground beef in gravy poured over toast. MMMMMMMM! I suppose it's possible that BK was trying to make Taylor look cute in having her describe it that misunderstanding kind of way. Finished last night with a bit of an underwhelming feeling. This book is an obvious 3* - right in the middle of things. Taylor is a kind of opaque and un-interesting character, though possibly more compelling to female readers. Still, I respect the author for keeping it real enough, although the overall premise is not exactly reality-based. You know, being "gifted" with a needy little kid as an opportunity for YOU to grow up and take responsibility. I might give the author another shot. After all, this was her first effort. - the kid grab in the park = R. Ford's "The Womanizer" - a "you see" pops up - my bugaboo - If you were trying to avoid "La Migra" driving E. out of Tucson, you might want to AVOID "the ten"(I-10). I'm just sayin' ... - I didn't read the little bit of "The Poisonwood Bible" teaser at the end, though I might read that one some time.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Sissy

    Barbara Kingsolver… I now seem to have a love/hate relationship with this writer. My first attempt of reading her work was “The Poisonwood Bible”. I didn’t like it all.. Stopped reading a little after half way. For the longest I avoided her books until a good friend (whose judgment I trust) persuaded me to read this novel…”The Bean Trees” I am so happy now that I have read this book. Kingsolver tells a wonderful story about love. About the love a person feels for friends, family and children even Barbara Kingsolver… I now seem to have a love/hate relationship with this writer. My first attempt of reading her work was “The Poisonwood Bible”. I didn’t like it all.. Stopped reading a little after half way. For the longest I avoided her books until a good friend (whose judgment I trust) persuaded me to read this novel…”The Bean Trees” I am so happy now that I have read this book. Kingsolver tells a wonderful story about love. About the love a person feels for friends, family and children even when the children are not biologically their own. It is a mature novel filled with wisdom and compassion; nature and nurture. Kingsolver, gives readers something that's increasingly hard to find today…. a character to believe in, laugh with and admire. Taylor Greer is a woman who has taken her life into her own hands. She managed to escape the fate of most of her contemporaries in her rural, Kentucky town. She was able to reach adulthood without becoming barefoot and pregnant. She saved money, bought a car and headed west. Free at last. Then fate stepped in …. a two year old girl was left in the front seat of her car. Great story.. Great writing.. I’m glad I gave Kingsolver another try.. I won’t hesitate the next time someone suggest another of her books… including the sequel

  26. 5 out of 5

    Elvan

    The Bean Trees is an oddly entertaining and endearing little book. At first I was not sure I could stomach a book that read like a cross between Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion and something written by Erma Bombeck but the more I read the more invested I became in this quirky little gem. Under the humour and one liners generated by store names like Jesus Is Lord Used Tires, there are themes of separation and loss and finding a family of choice when circumstances prohibit going home ag The Bean Trees is an oddly entertaining and endearing little book. At first I was not sure I could stomach a book that read like a cross between Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion and something written by Erma Bombeck but the more I read the more invested I became in this quirky little gem. Under the humour and one liners generated by store names like Jesus Is Lord Used Tires, there are themes of separation and loss and finding a family of choice when circumstances prohibit going home again. I'm glad I didn't give up on this book when it opened with so much silliness. As Kingsolver found her feet in this her first novel, it became quite clear that she has the ability to both enlighten and entertain her readers. Interesting read that may not be everyone's cup of tea. I'll remember 2014 as the year I finally read my first Barbara Kingsolver books.

  27. 3 out of 5

    Maria

    This is a well-written novel with a resilient protagonist, beautifully-drawn characters and an inspiring theme of relationships, growth and compassion. It was interesting to me to see this author's progress from this early novel to The Poisonwood Bible, published a few books later, and which is superbly written. In my zeal, I also started Kingsolver's early Animal Dreams, which is thematically somewhat similar but more of a love story, which holds no particular interest for me, but her style is This is a well-written novel with a resilient protagonist, beautifully-drawn characters and an inspiring theme of relationships, growth and compassion. It was interesting to me to see this author's progress from this early novel to The Poisonwood Bible, published a few books later, and which is superbly written. In my zeal, I also started Kingsolver's early Animal Dreams, which is thematically somewhat similar but more of a love story, which holds no particular interest for me, but her style is strong and I'll happily finish it.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    A decent choice for a quick, well written novel to pass a long airplane ride. Although full of confrontations with "hard issues" like immigration, violence, injustice & single motherhood, these themes weren't given more than an passing once-over. Although easy to fall into and even enjoy, the critical edge and depth that made Poisonwood Bible one of my all-time favorite books was absolutely missing here.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Brina

    Another book that I read and loved in high school that I am filing here. I have since read Pigs in Heaven, Animal Dreams, and The Poisonwood Bible.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Marie

    Ever since reading Prodigal Summer, I've been a fan of Barbara Kingsolver. Subsequently I read The Poisonwood Bible, which is a very challenging novel with serious stickability. Thus, I was curious to read Kingsolver's first novel, The Bean Trees, which was published in 1988. Remarkably, the numerous themes--immigration, indigenous people, adoption, and a faulty judicial system--are still relevant today; I often forgot that I was reading a 30-year-old novel. And that the story begins in Kentucky Ever since reading Prodigal Summer, I've been a fan of Barbara Kingsolver. Subsequently I read The Poisonwood Bible, which is a very challenging novel with serious stickability. Thus, I was curious to read Kingsolver's first novel, The Bean Trees, which was published in 1988. Remarkably, the numerous themes--immigration, indigenous people, adoption, and a faulty judicial system--are still relevant today; I often forgot that I was reading a 30-year-old novel. And that the story begins in Kentucky (the protagonist's home state), was really delightful. Kingsolver did an excellent job of capturing the unique culture and dialect of the region. Throughout the novel, you can sense Kingsolver's potential. You just know she is going to do great things, despite The Bean Trees being a bit rough around the edges. Unfortunately, once the story moves past Kentucky, the settings in Oklahoma and Arizona just weren't as vividly portrayed, and I struggled to feel connected to those places. Moreover, the plot sort of jumps the rails in the last quarter, and I just couldn't buy in to some of the events that happened. All that said, I'm very glad I read this debut and look forward to reading Kingsolver's newest novel, Unsheltered, when it releases in October.

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