The Bean Trees (1988)

by Barbara Kingsolver

A child would seem to be the last thing twentysomething Taylor (aka Marietta) Greer needs as she escapes rural Kentucky and drives west in a car so ramshackle that she has to push start it with one leg out the door. Yet when she passes through the Cherokee Indian reservation in Oklahoma and a woman drops a baby on her passenger seat, Taylor drives away an instant mother. She names the little girl Turtle for her stubborn grip. The car has two flat tires when they get to Tucson, and there they stay.

The Bean Trees is a celebration of the community Taylor forms in her new life. She becomes fast friends with her landlady, another Kentucky native and single mom, and with her boss, the woman whose tire shop she pulled into on arriving in Tucson. The latter operates not only the shop but also a sanctuary for illegal immigrants fleeing brutality in their native land. Two Guatamalan refugees figure in Taylor's life as both friends and assistants in her adoption of Turtle. And, of course, there is the parent-child relationship in which Taylor learns the responsibility of caring for a formerly abused child, and Turtle learns to trust and begins to speak. "Bean trees" are what she calls the seed pods of wisteria trees.

Taylor, a fiesty, tough-talking, insightful young woman, is chief among an number of delightful characters in this first novel from Barbara Kingsolver, who is rightfully revered now. Taylor and Turtle, then 6, are also featured in Kingsolver's Pigs in Heaven (1993).


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