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Little Bee by Chris Cleave



I just want to give Little Bee a great big hug.  How can a young woman, still in her teens, still a child, go through what Little Bee had to endure.

Little Bee comes from a village in Nigeria sheltered from the world’s advancements, but not sheltered from the world’s evils.  She is wise beyond her years, and her coping mechanisms include dressing unattractively, but painting her toenails to remind herself who she really is.  She also learns the Queen’s English so she can sound more intelligent.

Little Bee, looking at a comrade in the detention center, has this thought about survival in the outside world – “Her thing was beauty not talking.  I wonder which of us had made the best choice to survive.  She had plucked her eye brows out and then she had drawn them back on with a pencil.  This is what she had done to save her life.”

Little Bee’s journey to freedom begins when she flees her village with her sister and friend.  Little Bee touches the lives of Andrew (a writer), Sarah (editor of a fashion magazine), Charlie (a batman freak), and Lawrence (Sarah’s confidant).  Little Bee touched my life as well.  These two quotes say so much about Little Bee, her journey, and her outlook – “So when I say that I am a refugee, you must understand that there is no refuge.” and “Sad words are just another beauty.  A sad story means this story teller is alive.”   I know Little Bee goes on to do great things and she will finally be able to tell all people her real name.

Peace is a time when people can tell their real name” – Little Bee

From Simon and Schuster

We don’t want to tell you too much about this book.   It is a truly special story and we don’t want to spoil it.  Neverthless, you need to know something, so we will just say this:  It is extremely funny, but the African beach scene is horrific.  The story starts there, but the book doesn’t.  And it’s what happens afterward that is most important.   Once you have read it, you’ll want to tell everyone about it.  When you do, please don’t tell them what happens either.  The magic is in how it unfolds.


Book Club Party Ideas

For some fun, we all tried our hand at  Geles.  “Gele” is a Yoruba (Nigeria, West Africa) word for female headwraps.  I purchased fabric at Hobby Lobby for our Geles.  African Head Wrap Instructions

My party theme is based in Nigeria in honor of Little Bee.  For my music I chose Nigeria Special: Modern Highlife, Afro Sounds, & Nigerian Blues by Various Artists for a variety of Nigerian sounds.   I also chose the Palm Wine Sounds of S.E. Rogie.  Palm Wine music dates back to when Portuguese sailors introduced guitars to West Africa.


Book Club Menu

I have never tried Nigerian food before, so I was excited to learn more about what fruits, vegetables and spices I would be cooking with.    I purchased some fabric at a local arts and crafts store to use as a table cloth.

chicken, rice, plantains, mango

Cake, chin chin cookies


Book Club Resources

After reading this story I wanted to know how factual the events were that occurred.  It is almost like reading a novel when reading the information on the web about the oil wars – so far away from our lives in America.  Nigeria has a population of 151,000 and is very diverse with over 250 different ethnic groups.  In this photo of a Nigerian beach you can see the beauty of Nigeria.

Nigerian Beach - Image hosted by Flickr

Nigerian Beach – Image hosted by Flickr

Even though Little Bee had seen enough tragedy to last a hundred lifetimes, I know she sees this beauty and innocence that is Nigeria and I wanted my party to portray that beauty.

Ratings and Reviews

My Rating: 4 stars A page turning story of a young Nigerian determined to make it in the world.

  • “Book clubs in search of the next Kite Runner need look no further than this astonishing, flawless novel… Cleave (Incendiary) effortlessly moves between alternating viewpoints with lucid, poignant prose and the occasional lighter note. A tension-filled dramatic ending and plenty of moral dilemmas add up to a satisfying, emotional read.”  — Library Journal 
  • Little Bee will blow you away…. In restrained, diamond-hard prose, Cleave alternates between these two characters’ points of view as he pulls the threads of their dark — but often funny — story tight. What unfolds between them… is both surprising and inevitable, thoroughly satisfying if also heart-rending.”  — Washington Post
  • “Utterly enthralling page-turner… Novelist Cleave does a brilliant job of making both characters not only believable but memorable…. These compelling voices grip the reader’s heart and do not let go even after the book’s hyper-tense final page. Little Bee is a harrowing and heartening marvel of a novel.”  — Seattle Post-Intelligencer
  • “…a psychologically charged story of grief, globalization and an unlikely friendship…Cleave’s narrative pulses with portentous, nearly spectral energy…”  — Kirkus
  • “The voice that speaks from the first page of Chris Cleave’s Little Bee is one you might never have heard — the voice of a smart, wary, heartsick immigrant scarred by the terrors of her past…. Read this urgent and wryly funny novel for its insights into simple humanity, the force that can disarm fear.”  — O Magazine
  • “Cleave is a nerves-of-steel storyteller of stealthy power, and this is a novel as resplendent and menacing as life itself.” — Booklist (starred review)

Discussion Questions for Little Bee

  1. So when I say that I am a refugee, you must understand that there is no refuge.”  Will Little Bee find refuge or will she always struggle with feelings that she will never be in a safe place, physically or mentally?
  2. Sad words are just another beauty.  A sad story means this story teller is alive.” (Page 9) We all have stories, both happy and sad, that have shaped who we are today.  What stories can you share that have had an impact on your life.
  3. Little Bee develops her own coping mechanisms to help her survive her journey to freedom.  She dresses unattractively, but paints her toenails to remind herself who she really is.  She also learns the Queen’s English so she can sound more intelligent.  What coping mechanisms do you use to remind yourself of who you are when going through life’s struggles?
  4. Andrew makes a decision on the beach that will forever haunt him.  What choices did Andrew have?  What would you have done if  faced with making this decision?
  5. The oil wars are still apparent today.  What impact do these wars have on the communities and people they come in contact with?   Is there anything you can do make a difference in the lives of people who are trying to escape violence and intolerance?

To find out more about asylum seekers here in the U.S. visit HumanRightsFirst.org.

The Author

Chris Cleave lives in London with his wife and three children.    Little Bee is his second novel, where it is a New York Times #1 bestseller.  It is titled The Other Hand in the UK, where it is a Sunday Times bestseller

Visit Chris Cleave’s website

It is a truly special story and we don’t want to spoil it. Nevertheless, you need to know something, so we will just say this:  It is extremely funny, but the African beach scene is horrific.  The story starts there, but the book doesn’t.  And it’s what happens afterward that is most important.



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Feel free to add your ideas, comments or book review below.

  1. Very nice wine picture…makes me want some 🙂

    Comment by Leigh2002

  2. Leigh, this is one tasty wine! I liked the label as well and found from their site that the goat icon symbolizes the importance of balance and composition and was inspired by an ancient Mesopotamian artifact – interesting little tidbit I thought I’d share.

    Comment by Marilyn

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