“There were two things about Mama. One is she always expected the best out of me. And the other is that then no matter what I did, whatever I came home with, she acted like it was the moon I had just hung up in the sky and plugged in all the stars. Like I was that good.” ~ Taylor, The Bean Trees
About the Book (from Publishers Weekly): Feisty Marietta Greer changes her name to "Taylor" when her car runs out of gas in Taylorville, Ill. By the time she reaches Oklahoma, this strong-willed young Kentucky native with a quick tongue and an open mind is catapulted into a surprising new life. Taylor leaves home in a beat-up '55 Volkswagen bug, on her way to nowhere in particular, savoring her freedom. But when a forlorn Cherokee woman drops a baby in Taylor's passenger seat and asks her to take it, she does. A first novel, The Bean Trees is an overwhelming delight, as random and unexpected as real life. The unmistakable voice of its irresistible heroine is whimsical, yet deeply insightful. Taylor playfully names her little foundling "Turtle," because she clings with an unrelenting, reptilian grip; at the same time, Taylor aches at the thought of the silent, staring child's past suffering. With Turtle in tow, Taylor lands in Tucson, Ariz., with two flat tires and decides to stay. The desert climate, landscape and vegetation are completely foreign to Taylor, and in learning to love Arizona, she also comes face to face with its rattlesnakes and tarantulas. Similarly, Taylor finds that motherhood, responsibility and independence are thorny, if welcome, gifts. This funny, inspiring book is a marvelous affirmation of risk-taking, commitment and everyday miracles.
My Thoughts: The Bean Trees is Barbara Kingsolver's first published novel (1988). Having read The Poisonwood Bible and Prodigal Summer and thoroughly loved both, I was excited to read another one of her titles. I think her style has evolved since this first book and her character development is stronger in the later novels but The Bean Trees still showcases her talent for simple storytelling.
Told as two separate narratives in the beginning, the story unites into one as the paths of the two main characters connect. It is a story about motherhood and community, inequality and strife, but also love and hope. Nature and landscape have top billing in Kingsolver's writing, and the reader experiences a cross-country trip from Kentucky to Arizona in The Bean Trees.
The heart of this novel is a lesson in humanity, the art of creating a level playing field for everyone and making a sacrifice to aid someone else in their journey. Taylor leaves Kentucky with the adventurous spirit of a girl but somewhere between home and the western skies, she discovers that she had the strength of a woman all along.
The Bean Trees leaves the reader feeling optimistic with its ending, however Kingsolver later wrote a sequel to this novel, Pigs in Heaven, which continues the story of Taylor and her adopted daughter, Turtle. It is hard to be disappointed in any Kingsolver book. She addresses serious topics through relatable characters that are a joy to follow.