The Bean Trees

fiction by Barbara Kingsolver


The Bean Trees is the first novel by American writer Barbara Kingsolver, published in 1988 and reissued in 1998. It was followed by the sequel Pigs in Heaven. The protagonist of the novel is named Taylor Greer, a native of Kentucky. She sets out to leave home travel west, and finds herself in Oklahoma near Cherokee territory. As Taylor stops in the town, a woman suddenly approaches, leaves a small child, and leaves with no further explanation. Not knowing what else to do, Taylor decides to care for the child. The novel traces the experiences of Taylor and the child, whom Taylor names Turtle. Covering Turtle's early childhood, the story includes a colorful cast of characters: Lou Ann, her roommate; Esperanza and Estevan, a Guatemalan couple; and Mattie, the owner of "Jesus Is Lord Used Tires".

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It was a little difficult to make it through the first half of the book - the issues that one might imagine come with adopting a child out of the blue were under-explored. Very safe in emotional terms, besides the depictions of abuses endured by Turtle, which are vague, but mortifying. The end of the book is sad and touching, but conducted with subtlety, so that I was left feeling admiration at the end of it all.

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