Title: Little Bee
Author: Chris Cleave
Page Count: 271 pages
Genre: Literary Fiction
Tone: Character-Driven, Moving
Little Bee, a young Nigerian refugee, and Sarah, a posh young mother, face a disturbing past and an uncertain future with the help of Sarah’s four-year-old son, Charlie, who refuses to take off his Batman costume. A sense of humor and an unflinching moral compass allow each woman, and the reader, to believe that even in the face of unspeakable odds, humanity can prevail.
These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points if you have not read the book.
- 1. Did you know much about the story before you began? Would it have changed your experience of the story if you had known more detail?
2. How did it affect your reading experience to have two narrators? Did you trust one woman more than the other? Did you prefer the voice of one above the other?
3. How did you respond to the non-linear storyline?
4. Cleave has said that the four questions he asks of his characters are: What was the best day of your life? What was the worst day of your life? What do you hope for? And what are you afraid of? – he believes if you think about these, the author can understand the character as an individual and not just as an exemplar of a category of people. Do you see evidence of this in Bee? Sarah? Others?
5. In Britain, Little Bee was published under the title The Other Hand. Which do you think is a better title for the book? What aspects of the novel does each title highlight?
6. Do you think American readers might approach the book differently from British readers? What might be lost on them? What about the story is universal?
7. Cleave intentionally focuses his books on current events and the ethical dilemmas of today. This approach has gotten him both good and bad press. What debates might be started from Little Bee? Are these questions easily answered?
8. Sarah comments early in the book (p.22) that “death, of course, is a refuge.” How is this illustrated in the story?
9. Why do you think Andrew refused to cut off his finger but Sarah was able to? Do you blame Andrew?
10. Do you think Bee is as culpable in Andrew’s death as he was in her sister’s?
11. Does Sarah’s discovery of Andrew’s research and possible book redeem him at all in your eyes?
12. Whom did you like better, Andrew or Lawrence?
13. In an interview, Cleave explains that Charlie is in the book for two reasons:
First, because he is funny and lovable – he gives the novel an emotional center; a reason for the adult protagonists to not simply walk away from the situation and disperse. Second, Charlie is a study in the early formation of identity. Little Bee is a novel about where our individuality lies – which layers of identity are us, and which are mere camouflage. So it’s a deliberate choice to use the metaphor of a child who is engaging in his first experiments with identity – in Charlie’s case by taking on the persona of a superhero.
What did Charlie’s presence mean to you?
14. Language is an important theme in Little Bee.
- -Where do we see examples of this? Why?
- -How does Bee’s grasp of language compare with Charlie’s? How does the way each of these two characters handle the English language help to characterize them?
- -What about the author’s language, i.e., his writing and choices of phrase
15. What does Udo changing her name to Little Bee symbolize for you? How does her new name offer her protection? Do you think the name suits her? What about “London Sunshine”? When is her real name revealed? What significance is there?
16. Why do you think Little Bee feels hope at the end of the novel despite her dire circumstances? Is the ending meant to be tragic or hopeful?
17. Little Bee says of horror films, “Horror in your country is something you take a dose of to remind yourself that you are not suffering from it” (p. 45). Do you agree? Was reading this novel in any way a dose of horror for you?
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NPR news story on oil spill in Nigeria
Interview with author, Chris Cleave
Reading Group Toolbox
People to People International Discussion Questions
Lit Lovers Reading Guide
Video Interview with Chris Cleave