Little Bee: A Novel

by Chris Cleave

Paperback, 2008

Call number




Simon & Schuster (2010), Edition: Reprint, 271 pages


A haunting novel about the tenuous friendship that blooms between two disparate strangers--one an illegal Nigerian refugee, the other a recent widow from suburban London.

Media reviews

While the pretext of “Little Bee” initially seems contrived — two strangers, a British woman and a Nigerian girl, meet on a lonely African beach and become inextricably bound through the horror imprinted on their encounter — its impact is hardly shallow. Rather than focusing on postcolonial
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guilt or African angst, Cleave uses his emotionally charged narrative to challenge his readers’ conceptions of civility, of ethical choice.
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6 more
The Washington Post
"Little Bee" leaves little doubt that Cleave deserves the praise. He has carved two indelible characters whose choices in even the most straitened circumstances permit them dignity -- if they are willing to sacrifice for it. "Little Bee" is the best kind of political novel: You're almost entirely
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unaware of its politics because the book doesn't deal in abstractions but in human beings.
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"Little Bee" is the best kind of political novel: You're almost entirely unaware of its politics because the book doesn't deal in abstractions but in human beings.
Book clubs in search of the next "Kite Runner" need look no further than this astonishing, flawless novel about what happens when ordinary, mundane Western lives are thrown into stark contrast against the terrifying realities of war-torn Africa.
Publishers Weekly
Cleave has a sharp cinematic eye, but the plot is undermined by weak motivations and coincidences.
The taut spring of Cleave's intricate plot is a sequence of unpalatable moral decisions that cleverly bind life-choices to the guilty freight of conscience. But this novel's great strength is the squeamishly raw candour of its protagonists.
The Other Hand is an ambitious and fearless gallop from the jungles of Africa via a shocking encounter on a Nigerian beach to the media offices of London and domesticity in leafy suburbia. Part-thriller, part-multicultural Aga saga, the book enmeshes its characters in the issues of immigration,
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globalisation, political violence and personal accountability. Lists of themes are often review-speak for "worthy but dull", but not in this case. Cleave immerses the reader in the worlds of his characters with an unshakable confidence that we will find them as gripping and vital as he does. Mostly, that confidence is justified.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member Yestergirl
I just finished reading Little Bee by Chris Cleave and am a bit speechless about what to write. The publishers took a big risk with the promo’s for this book, they didn’t really tell the reader what it was all about- “We don’t want to tell you what happens in this book...nevertheless, you
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need to know enough to buy it” and so they give you a little tidbit about it being “the storyof two women whose lives collide one fateful day”, but it is so much more than that. First we meet Little Bee and simply fall in love. She is so innocent, but quite insightful. “I wish I was a British pound coin instead of a African girl. Everyone would be pleased to see me coming” Little Bee is a 16 year old Nigerian refugee surviving in a UK immigration detention center. How she came to be in the immigration center is part of the story, as well as how she meets Sarah and Andrew O’Rourke, who were “on Holiday” in Nigeria, very naive to the violence that was raging in the area. Leading up to the tale of violence that links Sarah and Little Bee on a Nigerian beach, we meet a cast of characters from the detention center that will make you laugh and cry at the same time. And it opens your eyes just a bit because you begin to realize that even though this is a fictional book , that these detention centers really exist and so do some of the horrors you are reading about. The writing is captivating- and we are drawn into Little Bee’s world. We realize how Little Bee is not so different from Sarah. The book is written thru both Little Bee and Sarah’s voice and towards the end I began forgetting who was speaking to me. The story does not stop at the detention center, and as if their lives were bound by something untouchable on that fateful day Sarah & Little Bee meet again... I really enjoyed this book! The writing and characters will touch your heart!
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LibraryThing member ReadingWithMartinis
I was prepared to be blown away by Little Bee. For the first half of this novel, up to the big secret reveal, I was blown away. I was completely fascinated and absorbed by the story. But after that halfway point and the big secret reveal, I feel like this novel fell apart. The thing that was
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binding the characters together, the secret, is now out in the open and the rest of the novel felt pointless. I didn’t know where I was headed as the reader. before the big secret reveal, you know that is where you are headed and what you are moving towards. After the climax of the secret, the rest of the novel was like, well, now what?

The ending was disappointing. There was no real closure for the reader. I felt cheated somehow by the lack of an ending. I enjoyed the characters and I found Cleave’s writing to be brilliant. I think the execution of this novel could have been better, though. Perhaps if it were structured differently, I would feel different about the outcome.

I am glad I read this book. I had heard so many good things about it and I truly did enjoy it. I think if the ending had been handled differently, my review would be very different.

I would recommend this book to lovers of contemporary fiction. I might recommend that you check it out from the library, though.
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LibraryThing member DubaiReader
Worth a read.

This is a book with a powerful message, in spite of the valid criticisms of other reviewers here.
I agree that the conversation was clunky at times and parts of the storyline were a bit unbelievable (especially the end), but I did enjoy the book as a whole and the idea behind it was
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Having read the evasive bumf on the back cover, I'm not sure how much of the story I'm allowed to relate. I actually thought that the embargo on the content of the book was a bit unnecessary and even off-putting. It was a much more powerful tool in Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.
So if you don't want to know about the book - stop reading now.

The central character was Little Bee, a refugee from Nigeria. She has seen things back home that people want to keep hidden, if she returns she will be killed. The only person she knows in UK is Sarah, a magazine journalist with problems of her own. She goes to stay with Sarah and is wonderful with Sarah's son Charlie, alias Batman. Little Bee is brilliantly portrayed, Sarah slightly less so, but I wasn't endeared to her husband, Andrew or her boyfriend. I also had a problem with the language soken by 4 yr old Charlie, I child-mind a two-year-old who has a better understanding of grammar.
I was sorry the three characters Little Bee left the assylum with were not used more, especially Yvette.

Well worth a read, with subject matter that needs to be raised and discussed.
Recommended, with reservations.

Please note the American version of this book sells under the title of Little Bee - don't make the mistake of buying the same book twice :)

Your Tags: immigrant, asylums
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LibraryThing member lizzy-x
I bought an edition of this book that was not the first, so it has already been heavily promoted. Because of this, the publisher felt that they did not need to include a blurb, merely assuring the reader that it was good. Unfortunately, I took this advice to heart. I should have known that
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immensely popular + no blurb + bestseller = the most depressing thing you will ever read.
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LibraryThing member cbl_tn
A British couple on vacation in Nigeria and a Nigerian girl meet under horrifying conditions that none of them will ever forget. A couple of years later, the three are reunited in England with unexpected consequences.

The advance publicity and marketing for this book didn't provide many details
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about the plot or themes of the book so I had little idea what to expect from it. The book addresses important themes and some situations I wasn't familiar with in a way that arouses sympathy for the plight of the characters. Besides Little Bee, the character with the most appeal for me was 4-year-old Charlie, who imagines he is a superhero and divides the world into two categories: “goodies” and “baddies.” Upon reflection, the book doesn't seem to analyze the issues at its heart any more deeply than Charlie analyzes his world. The book has its moving passages, but ultimately it's not a novel that will linger in my thoughts for days or weeks.
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LibraryThing member lsiegel
Little Bee is a very well written book. It is the story of a young girl, a Nigerean refugee who encounters a Brittish publisher. They are bound by the deaths of Little Bees sister and the publishers husband.On the back cover you are asked not to reveal the magical ending, leading the reader to
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believe it ends well. I felt betrayed.
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LibraryThing member meldridge
I enjoyed this book. I did not see the bombshell ending that was so protected, but instead saw a predictable ending in order for the book to end without becoming to fluffy and feel good. I had been warned that it was an extremely dark book, but did not feel it was heavy or that I needed to take a
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break from it. I did find the humor dark and enjoyable, especially the irony that she points out and describes throughout the book. I have to say that I found the increased inclusion of Lawrence in the story to be a turn off... He added virtually nothing but annoyance.
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LibraryThing member loosha
"For your holiday this year, why not try Nigeria?" This little book will answer that question for you. Little Bee is a Nigerian teenager, escaped without papers from a British immigration detention centre, who searches out a couple she had met one horror-filled day on a Nigerian beach. Their
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reunion is this story, which the book-flap marketers ask you not to tell anyone about for fear of spoiling the unfolding of the tale.
Little Bee is an appealing character who can find warmth and humour in the world in spite of her horrific past. Sarah is the editor of a glossy fashion magazine, still somewhat idealistic. She wishes she ''was a woman who cared deeply about shoes and concealer''. Her son, Batman, brings some much needed comic relief to this serious sad and moving story.

edited to add this quote. which is not important to the book comparatively but interesting in these times.
And now I saw she was so right because life is extremely short and you cannot dance to current affairs... No one likes each other, but everyone likes U2.
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LibraryThing member bnbooklady
Little Bee is beautiful, awful, hopeful, devastating, and utterly unforgettable. Cleave juxtaposes gorgeous, almost poetic prose with a truly horrific story that is made bearable by moments of great humor and warmth, many of which are provided by Sarah’s son Charlie, a four-year-old who is
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convinced he is Batman.

Read Little Bee for the language and the variety of voices that are so incredible you’ll want to wrap yourself up with them and stay for days. Read it for Cleave’s ability to tell a story that is framed by politics but that is ultimately about people. Read it because it does all the things fiction is supposed to do and then some. From the striking cover to the very last word, Little Bee is intense, satisfying, and not to be missed. This is a story you will carry with you for the rest of your reading days.

Read my full review at The Book Lady's Blog.
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LibraryThing member somegirl
There are parts of this book that I loved. I loved Little Bee's part of the story -- most of the time spent with her narration, I was enthralled, even brought to tears a couple of times. Depressing stuff, a lot of it -- one scene in particular is gut-wrenching -- but it's also got rays of hope and
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moments of dark humor. The early portion of Sarah's part of the story (her and Andrew as relates to their experience in Nigeria, and even her portion at home up to a point) I also quite liked, if not as much as Little Bee's. But around the time that Lawrence started to come more to the front of the story, Sarah started to fizzle for me. If you've read this book already and you're thinking a certain aspect of her character made me like her less, that's not it. I actually rather liked that revelation. I just felt like her character began to peter out a bit. Then there's Lawrence himself, who I didn't like at all. Maybe the author didn't intend for him to be likable, but whether intentional or not, his character detracted from my enjoyment of the book.

Looking at the book's progression rather than character preferences, I was really into it until around halfway through -- around where Little Bee tells Sarah the story of what happened to her in Nigeria. If I were to rate the book based only on up to that point, I'd have given it 4 stars easily. But beyond there it just lost the magic; I'd give the rest of it 3 stars.

I will also mention that there were a few moments that made me groan from the pretentiousness. I mostly noticed these in the second half, perhaps just because the first half had me more engrossed and less inclined to bother about such things. One example is this line from Sarah: "I remember the exact day when England became me, when its contours cleaved to the curves of my own body, when its inclinations became my own." Even re-reading it now I'm rolling my eyes. But maybe that's just because I haven't yet experienced the day when America will become me and its contours will cleave to the curves of my body. Maybe then I'll be able to relate.

A word of warning for those who need complete closure from a tidy Hollywood ending -- you may want to stear clear. Aside from that, I'd recommend it as a worthwhile, if not perfect, read.
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LibraryThing member lkernagh
Little Bee by Chris Cleave is a gem of a book that builds in complexity as you delve deeper into the story. At the start we are introduced to "Little Bee", a 16 year old refugee from Nigeria who is at an immigration detention centre in Southern England, being released into the United Kingdom along
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with three other female immigrants one sunny May morning. It is only as the plot unfolds that we discover the story actually commenced two years previously on a beach in Nigeria Where the lives of a British couple on holiday, Sarah and Andrew, are irrevocably changed.

Chris Cleave slowly draws the reader into the lives of "Little Bee" and Sarah as they are reunited, in England under circumstances that, may or may not have been beyond their control. The voice of "Little Bee" has a wisdom beyond her mere 16 years and the reader is drawn into the emotional examinations by Sarah and "Little Bee" through alternating first person perspective narrations as they struggle to cope with the events they could never have imagined occurring. Cleave deftly weaves the tale in a manner that that works well in conveying the very personal story he is portraying and inviting the reader to experience.

In all, an excellent novel.
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LibraryThing member opiatewave
Disappointed. This is the classic example of a good idea spoiled with a bad presentation. I wanted to like this novel, but there were just too many wasted pages in it to keep me interested in the story.

Little Bee has two narrators, the Nigerian refugee whose namesake appears in the book's title,
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and her English counterpart, Sarah. Clever idea to mesh two sides of the story into one book, but in the end Little Bee's narrative came off as more genuine, believable and coherent than Sarah's. The chapters featuring Sarah's narration suffered from a bevy of indifferent side stories, badly drawn dialogue and confusing time warps. Reading through the Sarah-narrated chapters was like sitting through an awful commercial break in the middle of an intense television episode.

I didn't care for the Sarah-Lawrence dialogue. Too much information and way too out of context. I wasn't impressed with the rather abrupt departure Little Bee made from her mismatched gang of illegal immigrants who were surreptitiously released from the detention center and whose freedom lasted only one evening - abruptly. And honestly, I didn't care for Batman (Charlie, Sarah's spoiled son)

I did care about Little Bee's personal touches - the way she would speak directly to the reader explaining how things worked in her home country of Nigeria. I liked her voice and her language nuances during her narrative. Why the author, Cleave, didn't play up those strenghts is beyond me. He practically ruined his own book with unnecessary pages.

From the first chapter, I expected to unfold a mystery of what happened to this young girl at the beach in Nigeria and how it tied her to an Englishwoman so many miles and an entire culture away. But rather than becoming engrossed in the mystery and the siruggles to survive and cope through such a tragedy, I encountered crap that cheapened the experience and deadened my interest.

Very disappointed with this book.
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LibraryThing member Lisa2013
5 stars for the humor and for Little Bee’s voice for the first ½-2/3 of the book, and an engrossing and quick read throughout the entire book
4 stars for Sarah’s voice through most of the book
3 ½ stars for the overall story, with the first parts much stronger than the last parts
3 stars for the
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stories of Sarah and Andrew and Charlie/Batman and Lawrence
2 stars for how this lovely little book goes downhill fast, not as downhill as I’d feared (from what a couple others I know said) but I wished it had ended differently and more realistically, and 2 stars also for showing a four year old boy’s language development (not accurately in my experience)
1 star for the hype as the plot evolves no more unusually than those in many other books, though that’s not the fault of the book, but 1 star also for how one of Sarah’s decisions rings so very, very false and I can’t get beyond that at all

My paperback copy has extra material about the real world situation, and also has discussion questions, which I read. I read this book for my real world book club.

Through much of the book I was trying to decide between 5 and 4 ½ and 4 stars, but I ended up with deciding on 3 ½ stars. I wish it could be higher because there is so much I love about this book. It was hard to choose between 3 and 4 official stars. Really hard. But in the end all I did was “like” this book.

This was not a comfort read for me and I am so glad I am not going to be reading it over Thanksgiving. The humor helped immensely, for 2/3 the book anyway. My reading experience was highly enjoyable for quite awhile, and this book probably deserves more than 3 stars.

I first got three in a row unreadable library copies and so I finally purchased the book, which I kind of regret because I’m never going to reread it.
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LibraryThing member debbiehughes
fast read. one major flaw: 3 people are looking for a lost child. who should we have call the police? the illegal immigrant????? Come on, you can do better than that
LibraryThing member msf59
There is a few things that irritated me about this book, but the biggest might be the blurb I read comparing this to The Kite Runner, which I thought was a great book. Let me make myself clear, this book is NOT The Kite Runner and Hosseini should sue the publisher for slander!
The story involves a
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16 year old Nigerian refugee, the title character (and the only one I liked), who ends up in London and gets involved with an English family. I'm not a fan of whiners and all the men in this books are incessant whiners and deserve a good butt-whooping. Even the boy in the story is a cry-baby but at least he's only four. There are some positive reviews, here on LT, but I say skip it and reach for something else, anything else!
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LibraryThing member Berly
Two women meet years later after a chance encounter on a beach in Nigeria. One is a magazine editor, the other a political refugee. Beautiful. Tragic. Hopeful. Surprising and inevitable.
LibraryThing member 2chances
Oh dear, oh dear. Am I really being fair, only giving Little Bee three stars? Perhaps not. Little Bee is affecting, poignant, elegantly written. The two narrators' voices feel right. But I have two categories of books: Those I Read On The Exercise Bike and Those I Read Curled Up On The Sofa. Those
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I Read Curled Up On The Sofa are read for pleasure; Those I Read On The Exercise Bike are read because I think I OUGHT to like them. Little Bee fell into the latter category.

Little Bee is the pseudonym adopted by a young survivor, a Nigerian teenager who has lived through a horrifying ordeal and spent two years in a detention center in Britain hoping to make a new life for herself in the UK. Her destiny is inextricably entangled with the lives of Andrew and Sarah, a young British couple who met Bee on a Nigerian beach under circumstances that utterly destroyed Andrew. When Sarah and Bee meet again, Sarah reaches out in the hopes that both she and Little Bee can find a way to survive.

The characters are well-drawn, the story is not uniformly dark...and yet. If not for the intervening influence of the stationary bike, I am not sure I would have finished this one; the tolling of the bells was audible from the first page, and I have a hard time engaging with characters who are headed down a doomed road.
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LibraryThing member gypsysmom
Several times while reading this book my pulse raced and my heart was in my mouth. It is the kind of book that pulls you into the storyline and won't let you go. Even now that I've finished I feel like a part of me is still on a beach in Nigeria.

Little Bee grew up in a small village in the region
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of Nigeria that was discovered to have rich oil resources. Her village was invaded one day when she was 14. She and her sister escaped to the coast where they met Sarah and Andrew, a British couple on vacation. On that beach horrific things occurred and none of the four was ever the same.

The story is told by Little Bee and by Sarah, each taking a chapter in turn. Two people could not have had more different lives but that meeting on the beach joined them together.

One part of the story really resonated with me. Sarah and Andrew's little boy, Charlie, will only wear a Batman costume and he spends his days fighting the baddies. Many years ago I babysat a little boy who also dressed as Batman and went around dispatching enemies. James is probably 45 years old now and I'm pretty sure he doesn't dress like Batman anymore but it was his face I saw as I read about Charlie.

I learned a lot about Nigeria and the refugee system in Britain from this book. Chris Cleave obviously did a lot of research but he makes the story very personal and heartrending.
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LibraryThing member nowright
interesting book -- did not like the end... girl escapes to england after family is killed in africa, finds the family that saved her, in the end returns to the same beach in africa with the same consequences
LibraryThing member bonnieconnelly
should have been a novela - great beginning, but fell apart at the end
LibraryThing member JGoto
Chris Cleave’s Little Bee is exquisitely written. It is a story told in two voices, those of Little Bee, a sixteen year old Nigerian refugee and Sarah O’Rourke, a British magazine editor. Their lives become intertwined quite by chance; their unlikely friendship cannot help either one escape the
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horrors of Nigeria. Most poignant are the chapters narrated by Little Bee. She speaks directly to the reader, whom she assumes is an educated Brit, rather than one of her own countrymen. Her story evokes an intimacy that makes the reader her willing accomplice.

“…I ask you right here to agree with me that a scar is never ugly. That is what the scar makers want us to think. But you and I, we must make an agreement to defy them. 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. I scar means, I survived.”

Serving as a counterpoint to the upper middle class Sarah and the outsider Little Bee is four year old Charlie. Charlie spends both his waking and sleeping hours dressed as Batman, perpetually fighting Baddies and saving Goodies. In this bittersweet tale, Sarah and Little Bee try to do the same.

Little Bee is a moving and memorable novel, one I highly recommend.
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LibraryThing member Smiler69
At the heart of this story is an event filled with violence and horror which leaves at least three of those present; Little Bee, Sarah and husband Andrew deeply traumatized. The book centers on Little Bee two years later as she is leaving a refugee detainment center in Britain, where she has been
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kept since her escape from Nigeria following that harrowing event. Little Bee has nowhere to go, though among her meager possessions she has Andrew’s driver’s license and address, so she sets off on foot to join the only people she knows who might be able to help her. This is the story of Little Bee and Sarah, who choose to hold on to each other and keep hope alive against all odds. It is told through both Little Bee and Sarah's voices in alternating narratives. Once I picked it up this book, I could barely put it down. For some reason, the publisher suggests not to tell anyone what happens in the story and though I hardly see why that would be a problem, I do agree with them that "the magic is in how it unfolds". Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member BONS
Chris Cleaves' Little Bee is at times a story you're not sure you heart wants to hear. This 16 year old Nigerian immigrant is suddenly released from a English detention center. Housed as an illegal, Little Bee can only look at the drivers license of Andrew, the man whom she met two years earlier.
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As Little Bee sets out to find Andrew and his wife Sarah, she has no way of knowing how tragically her presense will be received, more tragic than when the three met on the beach of her homeland over two years ago.

Little Bee and Sarah take turns telling this story of shock, horror and how one sometimes can not stand seeing the bad in one's self. Compassion fills the pages alongside anguish and grief. Little Bee will cause you to think of a world you just can not know. The story will compel you to ask yourself what might you, youself have chosen to do in each character's situation. Little Bee is an insightful read...........whether your heart is ready or not.
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LibraryThing member LynnB
This is a wonderful story that must be read. It is written from two points of view: Little Bee, a 16-year-old Nigerian refugee, and Sarah, a young mother with a glamourous job in London, England. Their paths cross -- twice -- and that is the basis of this book.

It is a book that made me think about
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our world. It is also a gripping story -- just when I thought I had learned the "secret" the flyleaf asks us not to reveal, I found there was another, deeper one.

Well worth reading. Thank you to LT Early Reviewers program for giving me the chance.
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LibraryThing member Steph78
This the story of a girl who is a refugee from Nigeria and a middle class journalist from Surrey, tracing the repercussions of their meeting. Not a great book, not awful - the kind of book that's trying to say something meaningful, but IMO is lacking in a feeling of authenticity and one I won't
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remember for long at all. The subject of immigration and the dreadful treatment some asylum seekers find in the UK is something there should be more books about, but this one really doesn't do the job justice.
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Dublin Literary Award (Longlist — 2010)
Costa Book Awards (Shortlist — Novel — 2008)
Commonwealth Writers' Prize (Shortlist — 2009)
Notable Books List (Fiction — 2010)




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