Little Bee by Chris Cleave
Cleave's much-praised second novel has an unforgettable central character--a 16-year-old Nigerian orphan named Little Bee. After escaping from a mass slaughter in her village, Little Bee encounters a married couple on the beach, a crossing of paths that changes the lives of everyone involved. The couple, Andrew and Sarah, are journalists from England who are trying to rekindle their marriage with a holiday. What transpires between them and Little Bee on the beach is one of the novel's many horrifying yet oddly transportive events. When Little Bee enters England covertly, she ends up in an immigration center but soon runs away, pinning her hopes on tracking down Andrew and Sarah. And find them she does, in the suburbs of London, where a new chapter in Little Bee's life soon unfolds--one that draws upon the horrible events back home even as it offers strange possibilities for the future. Courageous, resourceful and smart, Little Bee makes for a first-class narrator. Her impressions of European culture bring humor to a novel of many moods. Cleave, who writes for the Guardian, clearly has a broad understanding of international politics and a deep sympathy for immigrants and exiles, both of which he brings to bear on this compelling narrative. His skills as a novelist have earned him comparisons to master storytellers such as Ian McEwan and John Banville, and Little Bee makes it easy to see why.
A reading group guide is included in the book and available online.
Whitethorn Woods by Maeve Binchy
Set in the Irish village of Rossmore--a quaint hamlet threatened by progress--Binchy's latest novel explores the tension that exists between long-standing tradition and fast-moving change. The possibility of highway construction not far from Whitethorn Woods, where Rossmore's beloved shrine, St. Ann's Well, is located, causes controversy among the town's residents. Some welcome the possibilities offered by development, while others are concerned about maintaining the shrine, which is believed to be a source of divine power. Father Brian Flynn, a local curate, is not sure which side he's on and finds himself embroiled in the town's conflict. Meanwhile, the stories of the villagers unfold around him. In her 60s, Vera discovers love unexpectedly--on an outing for younger people. James, a flourishing antiques dealer, has a dying wife. Neddy Nolan, the community half-wit, turns out to be more complex than people thought. In the end, he may have a solution to the town's difficulties. Life in Rossmore is filled with hope and heartbreak, and Binchy depicts it all with wonderful detail from the perspectives of a variety of fascinating characters. Skillfully connecting the townspeople's stories into a multilayered narrative, she has created a delightful novel that her many readers are sure to love.
A reading group guide is available online.
The Believers by Zoë Heller
Set in New York City in 2002, Heller's perceptive third novel explores the disintegration of the well-to-do Litvinoff family. Although they came of age in the 1960s, Audrey and Joel Litvinoff have traded in their happy-go-lucky liberalism for a more refined lifestyle. Joel is a reputable lawyer, and Audrey is the mother of their two now-grown daughters. The Litvinoffs also have an adopted son named Lenny, a drug addict who's an expert at using people. When Joel has a stroke while working in court, he ends up in the hospital, and his room is where some of the novel's central events and revelations unfold. Audrey hopes for Joel's recovery even as she learns terrible secrets about him. Her discontented daughters are also struggling. Personally unfulfilled, Rosa surprises the family by turning to Orthodox Judaism for answers. Karla, an unhappily married social worker, finds herself drawn to an Egyptian immigrant who operates a newsstand. The Litvinoffs, as Heller portrays them, are the quasi-dysfunctional family. A very contemporary--and very human--clan, they're fueled mostly by the wrong motivations. Heller refuses to whitewash her characters or embroider reality, and her fearlessness in this regard is part of what makes The Believers so darkly fascinating. It's a chilling portrait of a family on the edge.
A reading group guide is included in the book. Don't miss our interview with Heller about The Believers.
Copyright 2010 BookPage Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2008 November #2
Cleave follows up his outstanding debut (Incendiary, 2005) with a psychologically charged story of grief, globalization and an unlikely friendship.The story opens in a refugee detention center outside of London. As the Nigerian narrator--who got her nickname "Little Bee" as a child--prepares to leave the center, she thinks of her homeland and recalls a horrific memory. "In the immigration detention center, they told us we must be disciplined," she says. "This is the discipline I learned: whenever I go into a new place, I work out how I would kill myself there. In case the men come suddenly, I make sure I am ready." After Little Bee's release, the first-person narration switches to Sarah, a magazine editor in London struggling to come to terms with her husband Andrew's recent suicide, as well as the stubborn behavior of her four-year-old son, Charlie, who refuses to take off his Batman costume. While negotiating her family troubles, Sarah reflects on "the long summer when Little Bee came to live with us." Cleave alternates the viewpoints of the two women, patiently revealing the connection between them. A few years prior, Sarah and Andrew took a vacation to the Nigerian coast, not realizing the full extent to which the oil craze had torn the country apart. One night they stumble upon Little Bee and her sister, who are fleeing a group of rapacious soldiers prowling the beach. The frightening confrontation proves life-changing for everyone involved, though in ways they couldn't have imagined. A few years later Sarah and Little Bee come together again in the suburbs of London, and their friendship--in addition to that between Little Bee and Charlie--provides some salvation for each woman. Though less piercing and urgent than his debut, Cleave's narrative pulses with portentous, nearly spectral energy, and the author maintains a well-modulated balance between the two narrators.A solid sophomore effort, and hopefully a sign of even better things to come.Agent: Jennifer Joel/ICM Copyright Kirkus 2008 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
Library Journal Reviews 2008 October #2
Since Cleave's Incendiary, which envisioned a London Tube bombing, was published on the day the actual bombing occurred, one wonders what secrets lie coiled within this portrait of an illegal Nigerian immigrant and the English housewife she once met on an African beach. With a reading group guide. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal Reviews 2009 January #1
Book clubs in search of the next Kite Runner need look no further than this astonishing, flawless novel about what happens when ordinary, mundane Western lives are thrown into stark contrast against the terrifying realities of war-torn Africa. Their marriage in crisis, Andrew and Sarah O'Rourke impulsively accept a junket to a Nigerian beach resort as a last-ditch attempt to reconcile. When machete-wielding soldiers appear out of the jungle and force them to determine the fate of two African girls, everyone's lives are irrevocably shattered. Two years later in a London suburb, one of the girls, now a refugee, reconnects with Sarah. Together they face wrenching tests of a friendship forged under extreme duress. Best-selling author Cleave (Incendiary) effortlessly moves between alternating viewpoints with lucid, poignant prose and the occasional lighter note. A tension-filled dramatic ending and plenty of moral dilemmas add up to a satisfying, emotional read. Highly recommended for all libraries and book clubs. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 10/15/08.]--Christine Perkins, Bellingham P.L., WA[Page 77]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
A violent incident on a Nigerian beach has tragic echoes in posh London in Cleave's beautifully staged if haphazardly plotted debut novel. British couple Andrew O'Rourke and his wife, Sarah, are on vacation when they come across two sisters, Little Bee and Nkiruka, on the run from the killers who have massacred everyone else in their village--in the pay, it turns out, of an oil company seeking the land. Soon the killers arrive and propose a not-quite-credible deal: they will trade the girls if Andrew and Sarah each cut off a finger. Andrew can't do it, but Sarah does, and the killers drag the girls away. So two years later, when Little Bee shows up at Sarah's house on the day of the funeral for Andrew, who has killed himself, it seems almost miraculous. Later, however, it's revealed that Little Bee has been hiding around the O'Rourke place, and that Andrew seeing her set off his suicide. Sarah nevertheless determines to help Little Bee get refugee status. Cleave has a sharp cinematic eye, but the plot is undermined by weak motivations and coincidences. (Feb.)[Page 30]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.