From The Jacket:
Sarah Summers is enjoying a holiday on a Nigerian beach when a young girl named Little Bee crashes irrevocably into her life. All it takes is a brief and horrifying moment of crisis — a terrifying scene that no reader will forget. Afterwards, Sarah and Little Bee might expect never to see each other again. But Little Bee finds Sarah’s husband’s wallet in the sand, and smuggles herself on board a cargo vessel with his address in mind. She spends two years in detention in England before making her way to Sarah’s house, with what will prove to be devastating timing. Chapter by chapter, alternating between Little Bee’s voice and Sarah’s, Chris Cleavewholly and caringly portrays two very different women trying to cope with events they’d never imagined. Little Bee is experiencing all the fullness and emptiness of the rich world for the first time, and her observations are hopeful, charming and piercing: “Most days I wish I was a British pound coin instead of an African girl,” she says: “Everyone would be pleased to see me coming.” Sarah is more cynical and disheartened, a successful magazine editor trying to find meaning in the face of turmoil at home and work. As the story develops, however, we learn about what matters most to her, including her fierce, protective love for her funny little son (“From the Spring of 2007 until the end of that long summer when Little Bee came to live with us,” Sarah says, “my son removed his Batman costume only at bathtimes.”). Sarah is trying to find herself as much as Little Bee is — and, unexpectedly, each character discovers a ray of hope in the other. What follows when Little Bee comes back into Sarah’s life is a powerful story of reconciliation and healing, but it is mixed in with a generous helping of satire about the daily difficulties of modern life. This is a novel about important issues, from refugee policy to the devastating effects of violence, but more than that, it does something only great fiction can:Little Beeteaches us what it is like to live through experiences most of us think of only as far off disasters in the news. As ever, the author says it best: “It’s an uplifting, thrilling, universal human story, and I just worked to keep it simple. One brave African girl; one brave Western woman. What if one just turned up on the other’s doorstep one misty morning and asked, Can you help? And what if that help wasn’t just a one-way street?”
by Chris Cleave
*Author Website: http://www.chriscleave.com/main/
*Other Books by Same Author: “The Other Hand”
"Sad words are just another beauty. A sad story means, this storyteller is alive" (p. 9). For Little Bee and other asylum seekers, the story of their life thus far is often all they have. What happens to the characters that carry their stories with them, both physically and mentally? What happens when we try to forget our past? How much control over their own stories do the characters in the book seem to have?
Little Bee tells the reader, "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. A scar means, I survived" (p. 9). Which characters in the story are left with physical scars? Emotional scars? Do they embrace them as beautiful? Do you have any scars you've come to embrace? Did you feel more connected to Little Bee as a narrator after this pact?
Little Bee strives to learn the Queen's English in order to survive in the detention center. How does her grasp of the language compare with Charlie's? How does the way each of these two characters handle the English language help to characterize them?
How did it affect your reading experience to have two narrators? Did you trust one woman more than the other? Did you prefer the voice of one above the other?
Little Bee credits a small bottle of nail polish for "saving her life" while she was in the detention center (p. 7). Is there any object or act that helps you feel alive and beautiful, even when everything else seems to be falling apart?
Of the English language Little Bee says, "Every word can defend itself. Just when you go to grab it, it can split into two separate meanings so the understanding closes on empty air" (p. 12). What do you think she means by this? Can you think of any examples of English words that defend themselves? Why is language so important to Little Bee?
Little Bee says of horror films, "Horror in your country is something you take a dose of to remind yourself that you are not suffering from it" (p. 45). Do you agree? Was reading this novel in any way a dose of horror for you? How did it help you reflect on the presence or lack of horror in your own life?
Little Bee figures out the best way to kill herself in any given situation, just in case "the men come suddenly." How do these plans help Little Bee reclaim some power? Were you disturbed by this, or were you able to find the humor in some of the scenarios she imagines?
What does Udo changing her name to Little Bee symbolize for you? How does her new name offer her protection? Do you think the name suits her?
"To have an affair, I began to realize, was a relatively minor transgression. But to really escape from Andrew, to really become myself, I had to go the whole way and fall in love" (p. 161-162). Do you agree with Sarah that an affair is a minor transgression? How did falling in love with someone else help Sarah become herself? What role did Andrew play in perpetuating Sarah's extramarital affair?
When Little Bee finds that Andrew has hanged himself she thinks, "Of course I must save him, whatever it costs me, because he is a human being." And then she thinks, "Of course I must save myself, because I am a human being too" (p. 194). How do the characters in the story decide when to put themselves first and when to offer charity? Is one human life ever more valuable than another? What if one of the lives in question is your own?