Title: Little Bee (or The Other Hand, depending on your location)
Author: Chris Cleave
Published: 2010 Simon & Schuster
Read For: Monday Night Book Club
Little Bee is a novel that asks the deepest sort of questions (who am I? why am I?) in a rather serious context (survivors of violence struggling to come to terms with life) yet somehow manages to stay lighthearted enough (via the superpowers of a 4 year-old who believes himself to be Batman) to allow the reader to contemplate the circumstances and themes of the book without being bogged down with too many emotions.
There is quite a bit of mystery surrounding the plot of this book. The back cover declares, "Once you have read it, you'll want to tell your friends about it. When you do, please don't tell them what happens. The magic is in how the story unfolds." This is understandable--having read the book without having known anything about it, I can say that it was nice to be able to experience the story without any spoilers. However, the simple fact that you know that something unknown and/or unexpected is going to happen, hangs over the novel like someone hanging over your shoulders while you type: the written word doesn't flow quite as easily; it is hampered by expectation.
I don't believe it is a hindrance to know that the book is narrated by two people: Little Bee--a refugee from Nigeria, and Sarah--a wife, mother, and editor in London. Or that it is a last minute vacation to a Nigerian beach that brings Sarah and her husband to Little Bee's part of the world. Or that Little Bee subsequently makes it as far as an immigration detention center in Britain. What follows is the search for the answers to those big questions.
I really enjoyed the writing style, the pace was just about perfect, and the characters were well drawn. It has action, ambition, and selfishness packed right in there with a search for love, the children that steal our hearts, and the challenge to figure out your role in life. At it's heart, it is a call to collect all the small pieces of your life and consider the big picture.