Kingsolver, Barbara. The Bean Trees. 1988.
I am reading a lot this vacation! What an excellent vacation.
The Bean Trees is a book I idly picked up because Dre insisted - he read another of Kingsolver's books, The Poisonwood Bible, and fell in love with her. Now, I haven't read The Poisonwood Bible, but I am susceptible to hype, and I'm also susceptible to a book lying around with nobody reading it. I wasn't quite in the mood for Luka yet, looking for something a little more down to earth, so The Bean Trees was it.
And it's very down to earth. There's no wacky magical realism here (though I do love me some magical realism) - while some strange things happen (one of the primary premises is a Cherokee baby gets more or less abandoned with a single and broke young woman driving west from Kentucky), all of those things could easily enough happen. The Bean Trees is about growth and resilience in the most unlikely places, and what it takes and means to be a family.
It turns out this was Ms. Kingsolver's first novel, though I didn't know until I was about halfway through and actually read some of the reviewer's quotes on the back cover (look at how thorough I am!). I can't say anything about how her writing progresses later, but for now, I really do like her style. Her narration (through her main character, Taylor) is frank and friendly, as Taylor herself is quite frank and friendly, occasionally taking a turn for the poetic. While the book deals with heavy stuff such as child abuse and illegal immigration, there's always enough hope that I wanted to keep reading. More than anything, it's about the lives of the people in the book - mostly Taylor and Lou Ann (her friend/roommate) and the children they're saddled with - and how they get by.
And I could read their getting by all day. I unashamedly love this book, and I'm almost sorry I finished it so quickly. People should read it. Then they'll love it, too.