The Bean Trees

by Barbara Kingsolver

Paperback, 1992

Call number




Harper Perennial (1992), Edition: Later Printing, 232 pages


Clear-eyed and spirited, Taylor Greer grew up poor in rural Kentucky with the goals of avoiding pregnancy and getting away. But when she heads west with high hopes and a barely functional car, she meets the human condition head-on. By the time Taylor arrives in Tucson, Arizona, she has acquired a completely unexpected child, a three-year-old American Indian girl named Turtle, and must somehow come to terms with both motherhood and the necessity for putting down roots. Hers is a story about love and friendship, abandonment and belonging, and the discovery of surprising resources in apparently empty places.

Media reviews

Barbara Kingsolver can write. On any page of this accomplished first novel, you can find a striking image or fine dialogue or a telling bit of drama.

User reviews

LibraryThing member jolerie
Marietta Greer didn't know many things, but what she did know was that she didn't want to end up like every other girl in Pittman Country, bedded and wedded before she was smart enough to know any different. Escaping clear across the country, changing her name, and of all things, picking up an
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abandoned Indian girl, Marietta, now Taylor was determined to make a life for herself. Along the way she encounters friends she didn't know she wanted, and a daughter who was not her flesh and blood, but would become her heart and soul. In leaving she finds the home she thought she left behind and the life she didn't know was hers to embrace.
Barbara Kingsolver has the magical gift of making mere characters more than just text on a page. More than just black and white font. The people in her stories and the struggles of life they encounter have the penchant for leaping out of the book and burrowing inside the heart. The Bean Trees was no exception. This is not one to be rushed through, but rather savoured and enjoyed as a contemplative reflection. A beautiful story with a heart warming message about hope, belonging, friendships, and that which binds us together - the search for a place we can call home and the people we can learn to call family. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member Joycepa
Taylor (née Marietta) Greer was born into poverty in rural Kentucky but had the great good fortune of choosing a tough, loving, totally supportive mother, who cheered her on. Successful in her twin goals of avoiding pregnancy and escaping, driving a beat-up VW bug that has no working starter,
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Taylor starts her odyssey by crossing the Pittman County line, promising herself that she will keep driving west until her car just simply stops running.

This more or less comes to pass--but not until she has had thrust on her by the aunt an Indian baby girl outside a run-down diner in Oklahoma; the girl, whom Taylor estimates to be around 18 months old, has been sexually abused.

Not exactly sure what to do about the situation but feeling a curious bond with the child Taylor drives on with the child who never makes a sound until the VW gives up with not one but two flats in front of the Jesus is Lord Used Tire mart in Tuscon, Arizona.

Kingsolver has an amazing ability to write about the economic underclass that is composed of women and usually, in her stories,Native Americans as well. Set in the 70s or 80s (the timeframe isn’t clear), The Bean Trees is a remarkable story of survival--of tough women who learn to depend on “the kindness of strangers” but who also learn to depend on one another. It is also the time of the sanctuary movement in the US, started by Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen in Seattle, when churches of all denominations and people of all faiths quietly smuggled Central American refugees, illegal aliens, especially at that time from Guatemala,to safe houses and new lives in the US. The story of one such couple figures prominently in the book.

Kingsolver’s prose is off-beat, her dialogue true to character, and her humor wry, as befits the people and the situations she is describing. She manages to portray the life these people lead realistically--not as some rosy dawn that is about to break in their lives but as a struggle to survive but with hope and dignity. It is a remarkable achievement--to be able to entertain but do so in a way that illuminates lives that are a far cry from those that most of us live and do so empathetically and with humor.

Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member msf59
Marietta Greer needs a change. Young, unhappy, restless in her small eastern Kentucky town. She buys a beat-up VW bug, kisses her Mom and hit’s the road. She heads west. She changes her name to Taylor after seeing Taylorville on a highway road sign and lets those bald tires sing.
In Oklahoma, she
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finds a three year old American Indian girl in her backseat; abandoned, with no hope of finding the family. Taylor names her Turtle and keeps on trucking.
She ends up on the outskirts of Tucson, at an auto-repair shop named Jesus is Lord Used Tires. Her life has officially changed.
This is a perfect first novel, filled with wry humor and keen insight. The prose is tight and the characters are fully-realized.

"I'm just a plain hillbilly from East Jesus Nowhere with this adopted child that everybody keeps on telling me is dumb as a box of rocks. I've got nothing on you, girl."

“There must be transients in the bird world too, rumple-feathered outcasts that naturally seek out each other’s company in inferior and dying trees.”
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LibraryThing member mrstreme
My reading history of Barbara Kingsolver's works is backwards. Most people start with her award-winning fiction, such as The Poisonwood Bible or The Lacuna, while others have been following her career since the beginning with The Bean Trees or The Prodigal Summer. Nope, not me. I first discovered
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Kingsolver through her non-fiction essay collections, High Tide in Tucson and Small Wonder, and fell not only in love with her writing - but also her philosophy on the world and nature. Reading her non-fictional essays first gave me a unique perspective as I began to read her novels. While her essays provided data and hard facts on issues such as colonialism, environmental concerns, war and immigration, her fiction told the stories of how these devastating factors affect people. And that's no different with Kingsolver's first book, The Bean Trees.

In The Bean Trees, we meet a precocious young girl named Taylor, who decides to leave her hillbilly Kentucky town and head west in a beat-up VW bug. As she travels through Oklahoma, she stops at a local hole in the wall, where a Native American woman approaches her with a small child. The woman insists that Taylor take the girl, despite Taylor's protest, and before realizing it, Taylor is entrusted with a young girl who seems catatonic. Not knowing what to do, Taylor continues her journey west, literally driving until the wheels fall off her car, ending up in Tucson, Arizona.

There, Taylor and the girl, who she nicknames Turtle, begin a life together. Along the way, we meet colorful, real-to-life characters who help Taylor and her quest to lay down some roots. Namely, we meet Esteban and Esperanza, illegal immigrants from Guatamala, who tell their story of horror and heartbreak. Through these characters, Kingsolver shows the human side of immigration - the "why" people take a chance on coming to America and risk deportation.

Kingsolver published The Bean Trees in 1988, and even at the start of her career, she was a magnificent storyteller. Certainly, like all writers, her craft has evolved, but she's never lost sight of her values and desire to make a change. I liked the punchy, humorous style of this book, and I look forward to reading Pigs In Heaven, the next book about Turtle's life, very soon.
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LibraryThing member anterastilis
My bad! I finished this book over a week ago and haven't gotten around to writing anything about it. I'm already well into the next book, and some of my memories of The Bean Trees have faded.

This is the second Kingsolver book I've read, the first being Prodigal Summer. I was going to get Animal
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Dreams, but it wasn't on the shelf. The Bean Trees was the next alphabetically, so I picked it up. It was a random, but lucky move.

I enjoyed this book. Barbara Kingsolver's characterization is FANTASTIC. I felt like I knew the characters: Taylor, who successfully navigated adolescence without dropping out of school or getting pregnant; Turtle, the 3-year-old child that is quite literally dropped onto her; Lou Ann, a young single mother whose personality and sense of quirky humor develop throughout the book; Esperanza and Esteban, a couple from Guatemala with a sad past. The book begins with the stories of Taylor and Lou Ann, eventually coming together in Arizona. Each with a child to support, they relate to each other despite their differences (Taylor's hardnosed drive and independent spirit; Lou Ann's silliness and insecurities) and help each other out.

It was a simple book. Not too overwhelming, it kind of took me along like an easygoing river. The outrageous things that happened made me raise my eyebrows, not fall back out of my chair. I finished it in about a week and enjoyed every minute of it.

I really like it when I find an author that I like - I can pick up any book by her and figure that it'll be worth reading. It's been a while since I've been able to do that - I'm excited to read the rest of her books, but I don't think I'll mindfully go towards her books. I think I'll just let them come into my life when they feel like it.
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LibraryThing member MeditationesMartini
This starts out as sort of Tom Robbinsesque whimsical baby boomer Americana only less funny only but also less misogynistic only but also weirdly anti-intellectual in this annoying way. Then it gets interestingly problematic--a window on young white progressive people trying to come to terms with
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what it means to be decent in post-Disney America (book written 1988). Maybe it's not fair to expect Kingsolver to avoid all the things that make 2014 people cringe (is it too soon to dub our decade the "Age of Awkward"?), but the cringes keep coming nevertheless, with the main character harping on about being one-eighth Cherokee and adopting a child who's been sexually abused and who, since that's obviously a mark of Cain, almost gets abused again in short order by a random park weirdo, or the nice old blind lady who probably just wants to sit and smell the wisteria but who Kingsolver forces to get up and dance and be indomitable for her supper all the time. You know? It's a shame because Kingsolver is a decent writer in many ways, economically limpid descriptive passages and deftly cute character passages. (A lot of people might add "little anecdotes," which are another regular feature, as a third stylistic strength, but they're a bit too pointedly intended for the delivery of a takeaway for me).

The story gets a bit of a spine with the introduction of a refugee couple from Guatemala who the protag ("Taylor") is trying to help get to a safehouse and get fake papers, etc. We get some of Taylor's struggle to not put the moves on the handsomely haunted husband because of his prettily traumatized wife, and it is whitesplained to us for sure but the interesting colonial valences--who owns the story? Who owns sexy brown-skinned romance?--are quite clear. They even become interestingly complex at the end, where one-eighth Cherokee tries to formally adopt the baby she has been slung with, who is full Cherokee, and the Guatemalans have to pose as baby's parents and give her up and she looks just like their baby who they lost to Sensationalistic Third World Horror--there are still annoying aspects but it really works, the interplay of power relations and identity things becomes downright contrapuntal, and the losses and found(ling)s of parents and children give it even a fairytale air. It salvages the book to an extent.

And I mean, I think Kingsolver is far enough away in time that the cracks are showing but not yet far enough that we can say "well, things were different then." If this book had been written in the seventies, even, I wouldna batted an eye. She's all right.
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LibraryThing member mlwl
This definitely isn't a novel that I expected to love. I mean, what could the tale of a woman starting a cross-country trip to find herself, illegal immigrants, and accidental motherhood have to do with me? A whole lot more than I would expect, it turns out.

Marietta Greer grew up in one of the
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poorest areas in Kentucky, in one of the poorest situations. Little by little, she begins to realize that she can change her own life. She buys a car and starts driving, forming her life on accidents as they come. Her new name is chosen by a city she stops in; she adopts a daughter because of where she grabbed dinner. A place to live is determined by things out of her control as well. She becomes paired with Lou Ann, who thought her life was just about perfect until her husband decided that he was worthless and made Lou Ann feel that she was as well.

The Bean Trees is much about families in any form they take, and the acknowledgment that sometimes the best families are the ones we create ourselves. The protagonist surrounds herself with strong friends, and it was surprising how well Lou Ann and Marietta balance each other. The women have little intrinsically in common but form their basis for a relationship through accidents in a way that somehow comes out stronger than a mutual interest. Kingsolver likens these bonds to an invisible web, and points out that they are no less a miracle than all of the many rebirths in the novel's pages.

Kingsolver slips humor into unexpected places, making the laughter seem more realistic. Literature buffs will also enjoy tracing the less obvious themes that pop up in the novels, but it is by no means necessary to think about symbolism to "get" the book. The novel isn't fast-paced but is a page turned because you learn to care for the characters as they learn more about each other. The Bean Trees is told through the lens of women working together, but anyone who has their own "found family" will see themselves in the novel quite easily.
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LibraryThing member RBeffa
Terrific book. I think The Bean Trees was Barbara Kingsolver's first published novel. I found it delightful. When I was first reading it I think the word "corny" repeatedly popped into my mind. This is good corny though. It is certainly off beat and Kingsolver writes speech that I haven't heard in
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at least 20 years. It sort of reminded me how many phrases have fallen out of popular use. If a younger person read this I think all these old idioms would just fly over their head.

It begins as a kind of coming of age and road trip story, I don't know what else to call it, but it is about a whole lot more. The lead character's optimism is heart-warming and life affirming. This is a good pick up your spirits sort of book.

Kingsolver tackles serious issues in the novel. This isn't all cuteness by any means. Even when hitting the serious issues such as child abuse, suicide attempts and immigrant refugees in the book, Kingsolver's storytelling ability can still create little bits of magic.

It has been a while since I read an off-beat tale like this full of eccentric characters that actually worked so well. I came to care about these people, almost every one of them. I can see more Barbara Kingsolver in my reading future, certainly the followup novel to this, Pigs in Heaven.
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LibraryThing member EBT1002
"Mi'ija, in a world as wrong as this one, all we can do is to make things as right as we can."

Turtle remains one of my favorite literary characters of all time, and the friendships forged by Taylor, Turtle's accidental ma, with Mattie, Lou Ann, Estevan, and Esperanza, are so sweet and timeless.
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Exploring such themes as belonging and loyalty and sacrifice and the courage to keep going, the novel follows Taylor from her Kentucky hometown to Tucson. Driving west in a ramshackle VW, she doesn't know what she seeks but along the way she acquires Turtle, a silent and adorable toddler. Turtle needs Taylor but, of course, Taylor needs Turtle, too. As their bond grows, so does Taylor's understanding of the brutality of the world and the beauty of connection.

I'm not sure I would have given this five stars if this had been my first time reading the novel, but I remembered it as a five-star read from the late 1980s and I'm sticking with that rating due to the novel's ability to so firmly ensconce itself in my reading memory. I thoroughly enjoyed it and plan to seek out a copy of the sequel, Pigs in Heaven, for a reread very soon.
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LibraryThing member DeltaQueen50
I have just finished listening to The Bean Trees written by Barbara Kingsolver and read by C. J. Critt and I now have a bookish crush on Ms. Kingsolver. Why oh why, I ask myself have I avoided this author over the years? Someone in the past made disparaging remarks and I unfortunately believed
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them. Now I am anxious to read more by this author. The Bean Trees is about feisty Marietta Greer, who escapes the backwaters of Kentucky to find herself a new life. When her car breaks down in Taylorville, Illinois, she chooses to rename herself Taylor. When she reaches Oklahoma and has problems with her ‘55 Volkswagen bug, she ends up having a baby placed in her arms by a sad Cherokee woman. Taylor calls the baby Turtle as she clings so tightly to her new mother.

I loved this story of how Taylor and Turtle find a new place in Arizona for themselves and surround themselves with good friends that become like family. The author uses humor and whimsy in generous amounts but also doesn’t shy away from dark truths and real life. As Taylor embraces the responsibility of motherhood and comes to love the state of Arizona, the reader is treated to a wonderful story of affirmation, risk-taking, commitment and love.

Originally published in 1988, this book, with it’s references to political and human rights issues surrounding illegal immigrants is very relevant to the border situation today. The Bean Trees is a touching, funny and humane story that was raised to excellence by the fantastic narration of C. J. Critt.
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LibraryThing member weird_O
In [The Bean Trees] young Marietta Greer tells the story of her journeys…from her Kentucky birthplace to the American west, from near-poverty (economic, social, and cultural) and non-existent opportunity, from her given name, even from her mother.

When I drove over the Pittman line I made two
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promises to myself…The first was that I would get myself a new name. I wasn't crazy about anything I had been called up to that point in my life, and this seemed like the time to make a clean break. I didn't have any special name in mind, but just wanted a change…I decided to let the gas tank decide. Wherever it ran out, I'd look for a sign.

Coasting into Taylorville, Illinois, she becomes Taylor Greer.

Driving on in her marginally functional 1955 VW, Taylor stops at an Oklahoma roadside bar, in hopes of cadging a burger, and is given a small, silent child, closely wrapped in a blanket that obscures its sex and its age, a bundle carefully set in the passenger seat. A woman—the child's mother?—murmurs furtively about desperate circumstances and quickly moves away. She climbs into a pickup parked across the lot and it pulls away. Just that fast, Taylor is a mother.

Within a few hours, Taylor learns the child is a girl, that she's pathologically withdrawn, undernourished, a victim of sexual abuse. She continues to drive west, her mind sorting and resorting questions and options. On the outskirts of Tucson, the VW's tires give out. They've stayed inflated long enough to get the car onto the lot of Jesus Is Lord Used Tires. Taylor, of course, has no money by this time, so getting tires, even well-used tires, are out of the question. She's arrived, it seems, at the end of her journey.

But we're only on page 41, and Taylor has a whole lot of journeying still to do. As she progresses, she's befriended by Mattie, the woman who runs the used tire business and who moonlights with an underground railroad marshalling Guatemalan illegals through Arizona and on into the secret American heartlands. Mattie gives her employment. Taylor also hooks up with Lou Ann, a fellow Kentuckian married to a rodeo rider of Mexican heritage. Lou Ann has an infant son, Dwayne Ray, but is losing her husband, who is intent on divorcing her.

Taylor's named her "daughter" Turtle because, like a snapping turtle, she grasps her hand or coat-hem with a vise-like grip. Inevitably, Taylor is confronted by the need to somehow legalize her adoption of Turtle.

[The Bean Trees] was Kingsolver's first novel, and in it she demonstrated her ear for dialog, her sensitivity to the nuances of interpersonal relationships, her appreciation of all the facets and feelings surrounding motherhood, whether biological or adoptional. The story builds, enticing you to follow along Taylor's road. You'll be glad if you do.
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LibraryThing member GennaC
The magic of books is their serendipitous ability to find you at exactly the right moment. The Bean Trees, published in 1988, is like a breath of fresh air. Escaping her poor, dead-end Kentucky town, Taylor Greer finds herself in Tucson, Arizona working in a tire shop that doubles as a safe haven
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for Central American refugees and learning to be a mother to an abandoned 3-year-old Native American girl. Kingsolver's heroine is naive but fearless as she learns what the human spirit is capable of surviving. A surprisingly contemporary novel of great heart.
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LibraryThing member jayne_charles
A tremendously vibrant and optimistic book, creates the feeling that if you are generally nice to everyone, as the narrator is, then everyone will be nice back. Wish it were true. Maybe it is.

Gutted that I read this one after Pigs In Heaven, which is the sequel, as I knew what was going to happen
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at the end, whereas I might otherwise have been on the edge of my seat. Definitely better to read these two in the right order.

It did strike me that this book is slightly dismissive of the Cherokee Nation, which perhaps left the sequel with a balance to be redressed.
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LibraryThing member crimson-tide
This is definitely a book worth reading. It is a compassionate and uplifting tale which concerns friendship, love, belonging, our responsibilities to others and the idea of parenting and family. What I really like about Barbara Kingsolver's writing is that her characters are always 'real' three
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dimensional people, even if they are a little unusual sometimes. And she has a gift for writing dialogue that flows naturally and fits the characters - in this instance Southern USA - without being at all jarring to those of us who are not American. There is humour here too. Taylor is an engaging, positive character and overall the book is hopeful. Your family is who and what you define it to be, and life is often what you make of it.
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LibraryThing member tvdavis
Tess Davis
August 23, 2009

The Bean Trees
The Bean Trees begins with the main character Taylor Greer, who I thought was a strong character for many reasons. She knew what she wanted in life, which did not include staying in Kentucky any longer, and that she did not want to become pregnant like all
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the other girls in her small town. Taylor wanted to escape and find adventure in life. Since the story was told from her point of view it made it very enjoyable to read because it was humorous and filled with her thoughts. She was independent and opinionated, yet did not seem very good at expressing affectionate emotions. I also thought Taylor Greer was very responsible because she cared for Turtle. Turtle was an abandoned child who was abused, that Taylor found and cared for. I thought it was funny how Taylor named the child Turtle because of how clingy she was, just like the mud turtles back at her home in Kentucky. It was heartbreaking to me that Turtle had been abused physically and sexually.
The character Lou Ann Ruiz was very different from Taylor. Lou Ann and Taylor became friends because Lou Ann needed a roommate when her husband left and Taylor and Turtle needed a place to stay. Lou Ann was sensitive, unlike Taylor, yet always seemed to be stressed or worried about something. Despite their differences these girls became friends right away. I thought of Lou Ann as a concerned and accountable mother who always put her baby son Dwayne Ray first. The aspect of this character I did not like was that she always seemed to be paranoid and a little uptight. However, both of these characters were from Kentucky, good friends to each other, and cared for a child.
A touching moment from the story was when Taylor selflessly helped a Guatemalan refugee couple, named Estevan and Esperanza escape to an illegal immigrant sanctuary. In return, the couple reciprocated; by pretending that they were Turtle’s parents so that Taylor could keep the baby and not lose her to social services. For me, this was one of the most moving chapters in the entire story. Despite having several great story lines and good character development, there were also two themes that were reoccurring throughout the book.
One theme that I found very important in this book was the role of women in society. Over many years women have had unequal treatment, compared to men, and have gone through many hardships, which I feel this book displays. At such a young age Turtle had been forced to face a terrible hardship and maybe if she wasn’t a woman she would not have had to go through that. The story also talked about how Lou Ann went through some troubles with men. Esperanza, a Guatemalan refugee, had already faced troubles that came with being a woman along with being an illegal immigrant. She had very limited education and little job opportunities compared to men, but she ended up overcoming her difficulties. Even though this book is set in the early 1980s in Arizona, I feel that women still face many of these struggles today. This story displays the many roles of women in general and not just as individuals.
Another significant theme I recognized in this book was the effect that nature and the environment have on everyday life. The character Mattie, who owned the tire shop that Taylor worked at, had a beautiful garden in the back of her shop. The beauty of this land made all who saw it respect the environment and care for other things as well. The garden and the bean trees symbolized the cycle of life. Crops would be planted and they would grow and flourish with the help of many things such as the sunlight, rain, and soil, just like the surroundings in our lives that help us grow. Then the plants would be harvested to eat. Finally, they would die off for the winter and come back in the spring, thus finishing the cycle of life.
I really enjoyed The Bean Trees because of the strong characters that were able to overcome many difficulties. I liked how the book was told through Taylor’s point of view because it showed that she has strengths and weaknesses just like everyone else. Lastly, the underlying themes of the book easily relate to everyday life and the struggles many people face throughout their lives.
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LibraryThing member butterflybaby
This is a heart warming story of a young woman who leaves home to avoid becoming a mother and becomes one any way. I liked the honesty of this book. I thought the story sounded both current and in the past.
LibraryThing member flutterbyjitters
Good book. Better than poisonwood bible. Moves quicker and is more entertaining.
LibraryThing member bookmagic
We are first introduced to Taylor Greer and Turtle in this novel. Taylor is a carefree spirit, who leave Kentucky to head west to Arizona. She is left with an abandoned toddler, Turtle and is suddenly responsible for the welfare of this child. Kingsolver brings many interesting characters into this
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story, while infusing some real-life issues. Excellent book
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LibraryThing member Lenachka
An excellent novel! I loved Kingsolver's language, tone, characters and storyline. The book left me really happy and satisfied! I'm looking forward to reading the sequel!
LibraryThing member tls1215
I picked this book up at a used bookstore in Charleston, SC just because I had loved The Poisonwood Bible; this is nothing like that, but still such a great book that I was reading it through the night in the bathroom of the hotel I was staying in so I wouldn't wake up my mother who was staying in
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the room with me. I enjoyed the sequel Pigs in Heaven just as much
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LibraryThing member kimbee
I read this for AP english in grade 12. I thought it was a great book and I would read it again.
LibraryThing member miketroll
A fine first novel with a well-rounded, gently paced story line. Depth and warmth without sentiment or coziness - very satisfying, like Tuscan (or should it be Tucson?) vegetable soup.
LibraryThing member dawng
I was totally hooked on this series. A nice, mellow book to read on a Saturday.
LibraryThing member tjsjohanna
I enjoyed the ride that was reading this book. The main character, a young girl from Kentucky, was poor, not book-smart, but nevertheless intelligent and a quick learner. It was a fun read.
LibraryThing member wordygirl39
I just re-read this book recently and fell in love with Kingsolver all over again. She's one of my favorite writers. I've read this novel a few times, probably because it reminds me of living in Tucson, which were good years. A sharp reader can tell, though, that this was Kingsolver's first novel.
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She definitely honed her skills as she kept writing.
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