The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Initially, Barbara Kingsolver’s debut novel is appealing but unremarkable: a native Kentuckian on the cusp of adulthood named Taylor Greer hits the road, hoping to escape the stifling small-town life that’s suffocated her for her entire life. As Taylor’s odyssey through the Southwest progresses, though, a warm, eccentric cast of characters emerges that begins to set the novel. Chief among these is Turtle, a Native American toddler unceremoniously dumped in Taylor’s truck while her back is turned, who quickly becomes the heart of this endearing, mostly light story. For me, the book’s appeal was rooted in its lively sense of humor: characters like Mattie, the owner of a middle-of-nowhere auto repair shop called “Jesus Is Lord Used Tires,” kept me engaged even when the plot got bogged down in sentimentality. Despite the lofty themes of motherhood and self-actualization that float through the narrative, The Bean Trees, at its heart, isn’t much more than a tale about a girl who leaves her small town to see the big wide world. That’s a story we’ve read before, of course, but Kingsolver’s talent for character and humor makes it worth reading again.