Little Bee (Paperback)

By Chris Cleave

Simon & Schuster, 9781416589648, 304pp.

Publication Date: February 16, 2010

February 2009 Indie Next List

“Little Bee -- this novel's small but powerful narrator -- begins her story as a Nigerian refugee in England who is looking for a British couple whom she met during a horrific episode in Nigeria -- a moment that unleashes a chain of events that will make you smile, cry, think, and, ultimately, pray for the best in humanity to win.”
— Valerie Koehler, Blue Willow Bookshop, Houston, TX
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February 2010 Indie Next List

“This stunning and compassionate novel brings faraway places near and makes incredible experiences real. From London to Nigeria, you'll grip the book tightly in your hands and hold its characters close to your heart: a young girl, a tormented idealistic journalist, and a fearless mother whose pierce love is a wonder.”
— Mark David Bradshaw, Watermark Books, Wichita, KS
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Summer '10 Reading Group List

“This is one of the few books I've read that I couldn't put down. The story is brilliant and powerful. The two main characters are Little Bee, a Nigerian refugee, and Sarah, an British magazine editor whose life is thrown into turmoil by Little Bee's arrival. With some incredible ruminations on immigration, grief, and the human spirit, Chris Cleave weaves a story you will never forget.”
— Stephanie Walker, The Boulder Book Store, Boulder, CO
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Description

The lives of a sixteen-year-old Nigerian orphan and a well-off British woman collide in this page-turning #1 New York Times bestseller, book club favorite, and "affecting story of human triumph" (The New York Times Book Review) from Chris Cleave, author of Gold and Everyone Brave Is Forgiven.

We don't want to tell you too much about this book. It is a truly special story and we don't want to spoil it. Nevertheless, you need to know something, so we will just say this: It is extremely funny, but the African beach scene is horrific. The story starts there, but the book doesn't. And it's what happens afterward that is most important. Once you have read it, you'll want to tell everyone about it. When you do, please don't tell them what happens either. The magic is in how it unfolds.


Praise For Little Bee

"...[an] immensely readable and moving second novel... The character and voice of Little Bee reveal Cleave at his finest... An affecting story of human triumph."
-- New York Times Book Review

"Book clubs in search of the next Kite Runner need look no further than this astonishing, flawless novel... 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."
-- Library Journal


"Little Bee will blow you away....In restrained, diamond-hard prose, Cleave alternates between these two characters' points of view as he pulls the threads of their dark -- but often funny -- story tight. What unfolds between them...is both surprising and inevitable, thoroughly satisfying if also heart-rending."
-- Washington Post

"Utterly enthralling page-turner...Novelist Cleave does a brilliant job of making both characters not only believable but memorable....These compelling voices grip the reader's heart and do not let go even after the book's hyper-tense final page. Little Bee is a harrowing and heartening marvel of a novel."
-- Seattle Post-Intelligencer


"Every now and then, you come across a character in a book whose personality is so salient and whose story carries such devastating emotional force it's as if she becomes a fixed part of your consciousness. So it is with the charmingly named title character in Chris Cleave's brilliant and unforgettable Little Bee..."
-- The Oregonian

"Stunning."
-- People (Four Stars and a People Pick)


"Cleave has a Zola-esque ability to write big and deeply....[he] makes the reader think about political issues and care about his characters."
-- USA Today

"The voice that speaks from the first page of Chris Cleave's Little Bee is one you might never have heard -- the voice of a smart, wary, heartsick immigrant scarred by the terrors of her past....Read this urgent and wryly funny novel for its insights into simple humanity, the force that can disarm fear."
-- O Magazine

"...Little Bee is a loud shout of talent."
-- Chicago Sun-Times


"Vividly memorable and provocative...heartwarming and heartbreaking...Cleave paces the story beautifully, lacing it with wit, compassion, and, even at the darkest moments, a searing ray of hope."
-- Boston Globe



Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com

  1. "Sad words are just another beauty. A sad story means, this storyteller is alive" (p. 9). For Little Bee and other asylum seekers, the story of their life thus far is often all they have. What happens to the characters that carry their stories with them, both physically and mentally? What happens when we try to forget our past? How much control over their own stories do the characters in the book seem to have?  
  2. Little Bee tells the reader, "We must see all scars as beauty. Okay? This will be our secret. Because take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying. A scar means, I survived" (p. 9). Which characters in the story are left with physical scars? Emotional scars? Do they embrace them as beautiful? Do you have any scars you've come to embrace? Did you feel more connected to Little Bee as a narrator after this pact?
  3. Little Bee strives to learn the Queen's English in order to survive in the detention center. How does her grasp of the language compare with Charlie's? How does the way each of these two characters handle the English language help to characterize them? 
  4. How did it affect your reading experience to have two narrators? Did you trust one woman more than the other? Did you prefer the voice of one above the other? 
  5. Little Bee credits a small bottle of nail polish for "saving her life" while she was in the detention center (p. 7). Is there any object or act that helps you feel alive and beautiful, even when everything else seems to be falling apart? 
  6. Of the English language Little Bee says, "Every word can defend itself. Just when you go to grab it, it can split into two separate meanings so the understanding closes on empty air" (p. 12). What do you think she means by this? Can you think of any examples of English words that defend themselves? Why is language so important to Little Bee?
  7. Little Bee says of horror films, "Horror in your country is something you take a dose of to remind yourself that you are not suffering from it" (p. 45). Do you agree? Was reading this novel in any way a dose of horror for you? How did it help you reflect on the presence or lack of horror in your own life?
  8. Little Bee figures out the best way to kill herself in any given situation, just in case "the men come suddenly." How do these plans help Little Bee reclaim some power? Were you disturbed by this, or were you able to find the humor in some of the scenarios she imagines? 
  9. What does Udo changing her name to Little Bee symbolize for you? How does her new name offer her protection? Do you think the name suits her? 
  10. "To have an affair, I began to realize, was a relatively minor transgression. But to really escape from Andrew, to really become myself, I had to go the whole way and fall in love" (p. 161-162). Do you agree with Sarah that an affair is a minor transgression? How did falling in love with someone else help Sarah become herself? What role did Andrew play in perpetuating Sarah's extramarital affair? 
  11. When Little Bee finds that Andrew has hanged himself she thinks, "Of course I must save him, whatever it costs me, because he is a human being." And then she thinks, "Of course I must save myself, because I am a human being too" (p. 194). How do the characters in the story decide when to put themselves first and when to offer charity? Is one human life ever more valuable than another? What if one of the lives in question is your own?
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