Book 20: The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver 

It took four second-hand copies of this book before I finally got to read it. I bought one freshman year of college, hoping to read it after loving The PoisonWood Bible, and foolishly I loaned it to a friend of a friend and never got it back. Earlier this year I picked up another copy at an old book sale after buying one at a thrift store; the first went to my mother (who is notorious for losing books), and the second I passed on to a friend. This copy came from the free bin at Kennesaw’s 2nd and Charles, officially the fourth copy to be in my possession and finally the first that I have had the chance to read. 
That reminds me… Expect a post about thinning down bookshelves and passing on favorites to come up fairly soon! 
On to the good stuff! 
TW abuse, molestation



Marietta (turned Miss Marietta turned Missy turned Taylor) is our lead protagonist. For a few chapters we have a secondary protagonist, Lou Ann, who eventually ties into Taylor’s story as Kingsolver often does. I enjoyed the likenesses between this book and Prodigal Summer because most of the similarities were things that I enjoyed (Kingsolver’s tendency to tie in liberal morality, her frequent appeals to nature, strong female leads, and beautiful setting). 

A few of the themes in this book:

  • Community
  • Race 
  • Immigration and citizenship (or lack thereof)
  • Imperialism
  • Native American culture / history
  • Nature 
  • Marriage 
  • Molestation and child abuse 
  • Single mothers
  • Southern women, specifically independent southern women

Taylor has an interesting storyline, and her sudden and accidental ascent into parenthood is comical and at times heartbreaking; her choice to avoid biological parenthood was adamant, and the little toddling Turtle winding up in her front seat amidst her cross-country journey was hilarious. My favorite line from Taylor comes after an incident dealing with Turtle that leaves her depressed; “Sadness is more or less like a head cold – with patience, it passes. Depression is like cancer.” 

Lou Ann has the burden of a failed marriage; his inability to deal with the horrific accident he suffered and his disability make her an easy target for misguided rage. My favorite line from Lou Ann is a bit of advice that she gives to Taylor soon after they meet; “Whatever you want the most, it’s going to be the worst thing for you.” 

I love Kingsolver’s characterization, and I think that she’s an excellent white ally to many social justice movements. She uses her platform to write about the issues in a way that is subtle enough to be likely to change the way that people think. I’ve mentioned before that The PoisonWood Bible is basically an anti-white-savior narrative, and in my review of Prodigal Summer I mentioned the elements of feminism and ecological awareness (i.e. anti-pesticide sentiments). This book deals more heavily with immigration, an issue that is still widely debated. All of these issues are feminist issues IF your feminism is intersectional. 

PSA: I’ve given up on Amazon affiliate links for the time being. 

I give this book a 9/10. 

Happy reading,

Scarlett

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