I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
3 out of 5 stars
Meet Taylor Greer. Clear-eyed and spirited, she grew up poor in rural Kentucky with two goals: to avoid pregnancy and to get away. She succeeds on both counts when she buys a '55 Volkswagen and heads west. But by the time our plucky if unlikely heroine pulls up on the outskirts of Tucson, Arizona, at an auto repair shop called Jesus is Lord Used Tires that also happens to be a sanctuary for Central American refugees, she's "inherited" a three-year-old American Indian girl named Turtle. What follows -- as Taylor meets the human condition head-on -- is as the heart of this memorable novel about love and friendship, abandonment and belonging, and the discovery of surprising resources in apparently empty places.
This is a character driven novel and if you don’t like the characters, I advise you to set it down, walk away, and read something else. If, however, you are willing to spend a while getting to know the two young women featured, I think you will enjoy The Bean Trees. This is not an action novel—it’s an exploration of the lives of two young women from disadvantaged homes and how they sort out their lives.
Who can’t appreciate the desire to get out of Dodge after graduation and see what else the world has to offer? Marietta re-names herself Taylor and truly starts over. She bravely starts out in a hunk-of-junk car and acquires a child along the way. LouAnn takes the more traditional route out—she gets married and moves with a husband, who proceeds to abandon his pregnant wife. But the two young women, from similar backgrounds, find one another and start building a firm friendship.
There is a study in contrasts—young women from poor families and illegal immigrants. Taylor, who has felt the weight of discrimination all of her life, is suddenly confronted with her white privilege. LouAnn, who has never felt worthy of anything, is changed by a job where her enthusiasm and hard work are recognized and rewarded. Instead of mooning around, hoping for a transformation of her absent husband, she finally takes charge of her life. Both of them learn new ways to cope with life’s problems and new ways to look at themselves.
These are issues that all young women face at some point in life (independence, marriage, careers, children, relations with parents)—how we each deal with them depend on the resources, both financial and friends/family, that we have available to us. I did find Taylor’s ready acceptance of the child, Turtle, to be less than believable. She had finished high school and I thought should have known better than to take off across country with someone else’s child, no matter how abused that child was. And I found the final solution to her legal position to be most unlikely.
The significance of the title, which refers to the Wisteria vine, gets rather slapped in your face at the end of the book. The scraggly, ugly vine which, after the life-giving rain, produces luxuriant foliage and beautiful flowers, just as the underprivileged, poor girls flower into a happier life with some kindness from others. Having said that, I loved Turtle’s obsession with plants—wanting to read the seed catalog rather than a story book—even though I can see exactly how it fit into this really obvious message.
Despite my perception of flaws, however, I found the book an enjoyable read. It made me appreciate my own age and station in life—I have said it before, I would never choose to be less than 40 again!