Discussing “Little Bee”

Misha’s recent posts about the “Seattle Reads” program involving Little Bee prompt me to write about my own experience discussing this powerful novel with the Adult Reading Round Table Literary Fiction group.

Here are some of the aspects of the book that intrigued our circle of readers:  Chris Cleave’s ability to create the voices of two very different female characters, giving each of them a distinctive and realistic identity; Sarah’s unlikeability, which seemed rooted in her shortcomings as both a wife and a mother — and at the same time, her contradictory appeal as a person one wants to continue reading about; the dilemma of how to tell a child the true facts about the death of someone close to them — or conversely, disguising the situation.

We also spent some time talking about whether or not we could actually maim ourselves if we were put under pressure to do so, and if it was acceptable to allow a child to assume an imaginary identity for an extended period of time, regardless of the reasons.

Finally, we focused on the ending of the story and argued about whether it was only a horrifying conclusion (in its implications for one of the major characters), or ultimately a hopeful one (in its vision for the future of mankind).  All of which goes to say — as Misha has previously pointed out — that the book  is extremely rich in its potential for a satisfying discussion experience.

One thing I would like to add, however, is that in my opinion, the story ends where the book ends and I think we should accept the outcome as Cleave has written it, rather than trying to create another scenario based on our own hopes and wishes for the characters.  A sequel hasn’t been written yet and may never be written, but until it is, we don’t know any more than what the author has told us.  The ending may be ambiguous and open to interpretation and that may not be entirely satisfying to some readers who long for a more specific resolution.  But the ending as given is the author’s choice and part of his artistic creation, and we must simply receive it, I think, as a wonderful and mysterious gift.



About the Author:

Ted Balcom lives in Arlington Heights, IL and conducts workshops on leading book discussions, about which he has also published a book: Book Discussions for Adults: A Leader’s Guide (American Library Association, 1992).

1 Comment on "Discussing “Little Bee”"

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  1. Misha Stone says:

    Thanks for sharing, Ted! Little Bee truly is a great book for discussion!

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