As I started reading this book the first thing that came to mind was To Kill a Mockingbird. I'm not really sure why, other than the obvious Southern connection, but it is a lasting impression now that I have finished the book. I liked To Kill a Mockingbird and it stayed in my memory; I think Bean Trees will as well.
This was my first read by Barbara Kingsolver. She's an author I have seen and heard about for years. I have picked up her books repeatedly but never had an occasion to read one. Now that I have, I am not just aching to run out and get the rest of her books. Nonetheless I would definitely pick another one up to read at some point. I am currently also reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Kingsolver and it was interesting to see the parallels between the two books. Bean Trees was Kingsolver's first novel and there is a definite hint of autobiography in the story. I learned from her latest book that like her main character Taylor Greer, Kingsolver was a native of Kentucky and moved to Tucson. This similarity gives her descriptions of the two contrasting landscapes poignancy and realism.
The story itself of Bean Trees is intriguing. It takes a young woman who is trying to find an identity for herself away from her home town. On a cross-country trip she is literally handed a child to mother. The developing story follows the character as she learns how to deal with the idiosyncrasies of lower-middle-class life in urban Arizona.
I have the impression that Kingsolver's books tend towards a heavy-handed environmental or socially conscious message. Bean Trees is no exception. Although it develops slowly, by the end of the book there is not doubt what Kingsolver's philosophy is relative to "illegals" in the United States. And the importance of nature to her characters.
I'm glad that I have been introduced to Barbara Kingsolver. All things said, I like Animal, Vegetable, Mineral much more than Bean Trees. (But, I'll save that for another post; I haven't actually finished the book yet.)