Little Bee by British author Chris Cleve was a disturbing read. Apparently, other readers feel the same because there are numerous copies hitting the used book market; apparently book owners wanted the book off their shelves fairly quickly! The book was first published in Britain in 2008 under the title The Other Hand, an ironic take on events in the novel. The book was published as a trade paperback in 2009 in the USA and Canada under the alternate title Little Bee. The novel’s climb up the best seller list has been attributed to “word of mouth”, and the book has enjoyed popularity with book clubs in the USA.
The English Literature Advanced Placement curriculum in any high school is usually generated with texts suggested for a free-response question on the exam. Recently, more contemporary texts have been added to the suggested list which also includes the traditional canon of Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen, Shakespeare, and others. I anticipate that Little Bee will be added to to the list of suggested texts within the next two years.
I was surprised to see the book so soon in the secondary market and have collected eight copies of the text over the past two months. The book currently retails at Amazon for $8.04. The same copies which cost me $8.00 would have cost my department $64.32, a savings of $56.32.
One of the reasons I am willing to experiment and add this text is the story’s complex structure. There are two different points of view: Little Bee, a young Nigerian refugee, and Sarah O’Rourke, a British editor for a magazine, who alternately narrate the story. There is also a flashback that explains the circumstances of Sarah and her husband Andrew’s initial encounter with Little Bee. Little Bee’s illegal arrival in Surrey, England, several years later causes such guilt in Andrew that he commits suicide. While Cleve allows Little Bee to make humorous observations, the events of the novel, including rape, amputation, and cannibalism, make for a disturbing read.
The other reason for the novel’s inclusion is the ethical dilemma Sarah and Andrew find themselves while on holiday in the Niger delta and the repercussions of their decisions on a beach. The author Cleve has been quoted in an interview saying, “We’re often told that we live in a globalized world, and we talk about it all the time, but people don’t stop to think about what it means.” His novel forces the reader to confront the rapidly closing geographic and cultural borders that are the political hot button issues of today.
A work of fiction is added to the Advanced Placement English curriculum(s) because of the quality of the writing and the universal message for the reader. Little Bee meets both criteria effectively and hopefully will make my students question what globalization will mean for them in the future.