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Barbara Kingsolver's The Bean Trees

Barbara Kingsolver was born in Annapolis, Maryland, though she and her family moved to Kentucky when she was a small girl. According to her biography, books, gardening, and nature were among Kingsolver’s greatest passions as a youth. They are evident in one of her earliest novels, The Bean Trees.

The Bean Trees is not about beans or trees but about the coming of adulthood for a young girl. After a false start at a career in science, Taylor Greer takes off in a jalopy and heads southwest. She’s in search of something beyond her old town in Kentucky, something better than getting married with children after high school.

What she finds is a foreign world right at home. On her trip, she is entrusted with the care of a young abandoned child, she takes on a few jobs, and takes the law into her own hands to ensure the well-being of her friends. Taylor Greer is a hero of sorts, one who won’t accept the name but for whom the title fits.

As a book that can be read on many levels, The Bean Trees is a novel you can take on a short trip or use as fodder for an in depth literary study. Kingsolver uses plain, everyday spoken language to convey the inner thoughts and feelings of her characters. She has a knack for describing the human condition.

With her prose and her approach, Kingsolver generates an almost sorrowful novel. But there is hope and suspense in the end. And like one’s own life, one never really knows how things will turn out, though you do your best to make sure it all comes out right.

This book club selection has been made not solely on its connection to the MidAtlantic, but also because it just illustrates great writing. Kingsolver is also known for her writing of the Poisonwood Bible, which was an Oprah book club selection just a few months past.

Now we have the pleasure of enjoying Kingsolver’s earlier work. If it is any indication of her later development in her writing skill, you can be certain that with any of Kingsolver’s books, you’ll be in for a emotional literary experience.

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