Thursday, September 16, 2010

Little Bee by Chris Cleave



Book Review Wednesday has been moved to Thursday this week. I'm scrambling to wrestle my ms into tip-top shape, purging all typos, in hopes that a request for a full is in my near future. So blogging has taken a back seat. Stop laughing; it could happen.

Anyhoo, today Chris Cleave's Little Bee is on the hot seat. Why did I buy this book? The teaser on the back got me: "We don't want to tell you what happens in the book. It is a truly special story and we don't want to spoil it." Then it gives a three sentence description and ends with "Once you have read it, you'll want to tell your friends about it. When you do, please don't tell them what happens. The magic is in how the story unfolds."

Hmmm. As a lover of fiction, I was sold by this marketing strategy. But as a writer, I thought of the websites which counsel: Look at the back of your favorite books to write the pitch for your query. Can you imagine an agent getting this in their inbox! "Dear Superagent, I don't want to tell you what happens in my book. It is truly special and I don't want to spoil it. Once you have read it, you'll want to tell all your agent buddies and all the editors on your rollerdex about it. When you do, please don't tell them what happens. The magic is in how the story unfolds." Yeah right. The Query Shark is salivating right now.

Seriously though, this is a beautiful example of voice. Chris Cleave tells the story from the point of view of a young black refugee from Nigeria as she escapes from a immigration detention center in England and sets off to find the only British people she knows. The content is not for the faint of heart. Yes, Katie, I'm talking to you. The political and military chaos in Nigeria's recent history that inspired this book (along with Half a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche) reminds me of Nazi Germany. It's brutal.

I love how Cleave's writing brings the title character to life. Little Bee's thoughts in the opening paragraphs on the British coin and the way she imagines describing England to "the girls back home" are exquisite. The ending is tough. It's hard to travel with a character away from the jaws of doom into the light and have circumstances drag her back. That's all I'll say, because I don't want to ruin the magic for you.

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