Note: Although this review does not contain any true spoilers, it does explore the plot and characters.
A fourteen-year-old Nigerian girl and her older sister escape the brutal rapes and killings that destroy their village. They are hunted through the jungle to the ocean, where the girls see a white couple strolling on the beach. When the soldiers catch up to the girls, they race to foreigners and beg for protection.
How far will Andrew and Sarah go to save two African children they've never seen before? What will they do when, two years later, one of those girls rings them up on a sunny May morning and says she's on her way to their Surrey home?
It is very difficult to review Chris Cleave's Little Bee. On the one hand, the novel makes us aware of the social injustices going on both in Nigeria and in the UK immigration detention system. On the other hand, not one of the three people Little Bee encounters in England is up to the task of making a difference in her life. Perhaps we are all ultimately selfish and incapable of truly helping others. Let's look at the four principal characters.
Andrew is not strong enough to act on what he thinks is right, and he's unable to accept that weakness in himself. Even when he finds an outlet for his guilt and a way to help people who are attempting to find a safe haven, he keeps it secret and cannot manage to complete his task.
Lawrence is the ultimate in selfishness. His relationship with Sarah and with Little Bee center around what's in it for him. He seeks only to have all the things and people and status that he thinks will make him happy. Beyond that, it's not his problem.
Sarah's naivete is at first only barely forgivable. She should have known better; after all, she is educated, is a journalist, and is married to a journalist. The continuation of her cluelessness is less easy to comprehend. She has peeked over the fence and gotten a glimpse of what people can do to each other, but this has not shocked her into reality.
This brings us to Little Bee herself. Without a doubt, she is intelligent and resourceful, and she has not forgotten the Nigeria that took her family. Thus it is difficult to understand how easily Little Bee believes in Sarah's ability to protect her from the evils to which she's been an eyewitness. Are we to accept that Little Bee is perceptive enough to discover the means of survival in a strange land but not smart enough to see down the path in her own world?
In the end, Little Bee is somewhat disappointing. What could have been a powerful message and a call for action in the name of human rights gets lost behind the stories of three unlikeable adults and one girl whom we know mostly through her personal tragedy.
Chris Cleaves has a website where you can learn more about him and view a video about his work and Little Bee. A reading guide is also available for the novel.
Little Bee at Amazon
Also available at Audible.com
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Published by Simon & Schuster, 2009
Challenges: New Author, eBook, Buy & Read, Global, 100+
Source: Bought (see review policy)