The Bean Trees

The Bean Trees

by Barbara Kingsolver


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Barbara Kingsolver's 1988 debut novel is a classic workof American fiction. Now a standard in college literature classes across thenation, and a book that appears in translation across the globe, The BeanTrees is not only a literary masterpiece but a popular triumph—anarrative that readers worldwide have taken into their hearts. The Los Angeles Times calls The Bean Trees “the work of a visionary. . . . It leaves you open-mouthed and smiling.”

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061765223
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 05/19/2009
Series: P.S. Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 27,323
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)
Lexile: 900L (what's this?)

About the Author

Barbara Kingsolver is the author of nine bestselling works of fiction, including the novels, Flight Behavior, The Lacuna, The Poisonwood Bible, Animal Dreams, and The Bean Trees, as well as books of poetry, essays, and creative nonfiction. Her work of narrative nonfiction is the enormously influential bestseller Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. Kingsolver’s work has been translated into more than twenty languages and has earned literary awards and a devoted readership at home and abroad. She was awarded the National Humanities Medal, our country’s highest honor for service through the arts, as well as the prestigious Dayton Literary Peace Prize for her body of work. She lives with her family on a farm in southern Appalachia.

Date of Birth:

April 8, 1955

Place of Birth:

Annapolis, Maryland


B.A., DePauw University, 1977; M.S., University of Arizona, 1981

Read an Excerpt

The One to Get Away

I have been afraid of putting air in a tire ever since I saw a tractor tire blow up and throw Newt Hardbine's father over the top of the Standard Oil sign. I'm not lying. He got stuck up there. About nineteen people congregated during the time it took for Norman Strick to walk up to the Courthouse and blow the whistle for the volunteer fire department. They eventually did come with the ladder and haul him down, and he wasn't dead but lost his hearing and in many other ways was never the same afterward. They said he overfilled the tire. Newt Hardbine was not my friend, he was just one of the big boys who had failed every grade at least once and so was practically going on twenty in the sixth grade, sitting in the back and flicking little wads of chewed paper into my hair. But the day I saw his daddy up there like some old overalls slung over a fence, I had this feeling about what Newt's whole life was going to amount to, and I felt sorry for him. Before that exact moment I don't believe I had given much thought to the future.

My mama said the Hardbines had kids just about as fast as they could fall down the well and drown. This must not have been entirely true, since they were abundant in Pittman County and many survived to adulthood. But that was the general idea.

Which is not to say that we, me and Mama, were any better than Hardbines or had a dime to our name. If you were to look at the two of us, myself and Newt side by side in the sixth grade, you could have pegged us for brother and sister. And for all I ever knew of my own daddy I can't say we weren't,except for Mama swearing up and down that he was nobody I knew and was long gone besides. But we were cut out of basically the same mud, I suppose,just two more dirty-kneed kids scrapping to beat hell and trying to land on our feet. You couldn't have said, anyway, which one would stay right where he was, and which would be the one to get away.

Missy was what everyone called me, not that it was my name, but because when I was three supposedly I stamped my foot and told my own mother not to call me Marietta but Miss Marietta, as I had to call all the people including children in the houses where she worked Miss this or Mister that, and so she did from that day forward. Miss Marietta and later on just Missy.

The thing you have to understand is, it was just like Mama to do that. When I was just the littlest kid I would go pond fishing of a Sunday and bring home the boniest mess of blue-gills and maybe a bass the size of your thumb,and the way Mama would carry on you would think I'd caught the famous big lunker in Shep's Lake that old men were always chewing their tobacco and thinking about. "That's my big girl bringing home the bacon,"she would say, and cook those things and serve them up like Thanksgiving for the two of us.

I loved fishing those old mud-bottomed ponds. Partly because she would be proud of whatever I dragged out, but also I just loved sitting still. You could smell leaves rotting into the cool mud and watch the Jesus bugs walk on the water, their four little feet making dents in the surface but never falling through. And sometimes you'd see the big ones, the ones nobody was ever going to hook, slipping away under the water like dark-brown dreams.

By the time I was in high school and got my first job and all the rest,including the whole awful story about Newt Hardbine which I am about to tell you, he was of course not in school anymore. He was setting tobacco alongside his half-crippled daddy and by that time had gotten a girl in trouble, too, so he was married. It was Jolene Shanks and everybody was a little surprised at her, or anyway pretended to be, but not at him. Nobody expected any better of a Hardbine.

But I stayed in school. I was not the smartest or even particularly outstanding but I was there and staying out of trouble and I intended to finish. This is not to say that I was unfamiliar with the back seat of a Chevrolet. I knew the scenery of Greenup Road, which we called Steam-It-Up Road, and I knew what a pecker looked like, and none of these sights had so far inspired me to get hogtied to a future as a tobacco farmer's wife. Mama always said barefoot and pregnant was not my style. She knew.

It was in this frame of mind that I made it to my last year of high school without event. Believe me in those days the girls were dropping by the wayside like seeds off a poppyseed bun and you learned to look at every day as a prize. You'd made it that far. By senior year there were maybe two boys to every one of us, and we believed it was our special reward when we got this particular science teacher by the name of Mr. Hughes Walter.

Copyright © 1988 by Barbara Kingsolver.

Table of Contents

What People are Saying About This

Anne Rivers Siddons

An extraordinary good novel, tough and tender and gritty and moving.

Reading Group Guide

The wisteria vines on their own would just barely get by is how I explained it to Turtle, but put them together with rhizobia and they make miracles.
-Taylor Greer in The Bean Trees
Plot Summary

Marietta Greer spent her childhood in rural Kentucky determined to do two things: avoid getting pregnant and escape rural Kentucky. At the start of the novel, she has headed west in a beat-up '55 Volkswagon, changing her name to "Taylor" when her car runs out of gas in Taylorville, Illinois. By the time two tires give way in Tucson she has with her a stunned, silent three-year-old Cherokee girl who was, literally, dropped into her arms one night. She has named the child Turtle, for her strong, snapping-turtle-like grip. In Tucson Taylor finds friendship and support in Lou Ann Ruiz, a fellow Kentuckian and single mother, with whom she and Turtle share a house. Her newfound community also includes Mattie, who runs a safe house for political refugees in the upstairs rooms above her auto repair shop. The novel's theme of fear, flight, homelessness, and finding sanctuary within a community are present in Taylor's struggle to find a place where she belongs, and the more urgent plight of two Central American refugees, Estevan and Esperanza. These fellow travelers help one another create new lives and redefine the meanings of home and family.

Kingsolver on The Bean Trees

"I always think of a first novel as something like this big old purse you've been carrying around your whole life, throwing in ideas, characters, and all the things that have ever struck you as terribly important. One day,for whatever reason, you just have to dump that big purse out and there lies this pile of junk. You start picking through it, and assembling it into what you hope will be a statement of your life's great themes. That's how it was for me. It probably wasn't until midway through the writing that I had a grasp of the central question: What are the many ways, sometimes hidden and underground ways, that people help themselves and each other survive hard times?"

Topics for Discussion:

1. The Bean Trees deals with the theme of being an outsider. In what ways are various characters outsiders? What does this suggest about what it takes to be an insider? How does feeling like an outsider affect one's life?

2. How and why do the characters change, especially Lou Ann, Taylor, and Turtle?

3. In many ways, the novel is "the education of Taylor Greer." What does she learn about human suffering? about love?

Customer Reviews

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The Bean Trees 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 368 reviews.
GeorgeEllington More than 1 year ago
I admit, I am no great fan of modern American literature. Apart from Ernest Hemingway, Philip Roth, and Raymond Carver, I hardly touch the stuff. I prefer a foreign setting, not to mention a different genre. And with that bias, I approached Barbara Kingsolver at long last, and found The Bean Trees to be remarkably compelling. The story of Taylor Greer, on a journey across the country, heading nowhere in particular, simply seeking to escape her dreary life. Only to be handed a life she could not have expected when a baby is thrust into her car and left in her care. Kingsolver has created characters who seem quite far from me, lives and experiences distinct from my own. Yet somehow she manages to make me care about these people. She can weave a tale around a superficially simplistic setting, a deceptively banal event - and inject it with such meaning, such feeling. Cheers to you, Ms. Kingsolver. I look forward to reading more of your works.
chloesmomst More than 1 year ago
I was not hooked from the begining. But in a few brief turns of the pages the characters came to life. Bean Trees is a bit quirky. The characters are strange and the locations even stranger but the reader begins to care about the characters. Taylor seems to be floating thru life accepting whatever comes to her but as the story progresses she finds herself and her voice. The relation with LouAnn deepens and LouAnn deepens as a person. The caring of Mattie for the people you know and those you don't is unique. And the relation between Esteven and Esperanza to each other and Mattie and Taylor and Turtle is beautiful and deep. This is not the best book I have ever read but it is worth reading from beginning to end.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. I was hooked on the characters and loved the way she described the different scenarios. I have passed this on to my daughter and she is enjoying it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Bean Trees is a heartwarming book about a girl from a small town, Taylor, and her journey as she tries to avoid getting pregnant and escape her small town. Taylor meets many people such as Mattie who works at a tire shop and is motherly towards her. She also meets a young abused girl named Turtle and even though she had avoided pregnancy,took care of her. Mattie provides a save house for illegal immigrants, and Taylor gets very attached to them as well. I really enjoyed this book because it shows how hard it is to be a woman. All throughout the story womens' struggles are portrayed and it inspired me. I also liked how it showed many great relationships were built, and you get to know the characters.I didn't like how the book became slow at parts, and it was sad to hear the horrible encounters Turtle had gone through. I would recommend this book to mainly women who are interested in an inspiring story about real life situations. Overall, I enjoyed this book and I'm incredibly glad I read it!
Reader12TD More than 1 year ago
I have read several of Barabara Kinsolver's books and was anxious to get into "The Bean Trees". I initially found it difficult to enjoy. I considered not finishing it, but came back to it and am very glad that I did. The imagery of her writing and the detail that she creates are what got me through - and it was definately worth the effort. It is one of those books with the kind of characters that you will continue to think about long after you have put the book back on your shelf (or archived it on your Nook!)
CathyFitzgerald More than 1 year ago
Lot of the same themes as Poisonwood Bible, about family, culture, morality, Did not affect me in the deep way Poisonwood Bible did, but I still enjoyed the book. Also a quick, easy read-can accomplish in a weekend,
Lauren Kirchner More than 1 year ago
I thought this book was a very interesting read. It was not my favorite but i would definitely read this book again amd tell my friends about this book. I had to read this book for my english class and i think it was a good choice for a summer reading assignment.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I unfortanatly got this assigned to me as a 9th grade summer reading project. I found this book very inapropriate, boring, and had a very libral basis to the book. For some reason the author kept making "male reproduction organ" refrences, and included other inapropriate subjects like porn shops and afairs. The only lessons in this book are that illegal imigrants should be let in to this country and child servises are evil. DO NOT EVEN THINK ABOUT IT!
Georgie62 More than 1 year ago
Love Barbara Kingsolver's beautiful prose. I read this after my high schooler read this for required reading and loved it. I got plenty of great insight by following the analysis that he and his classmates were writing. A beautiful and moving story of the power of women and friendship!
AudreyBoBaudrey More than 1 year ago
Although possibly not as exciting as "The Poisonwood Bible," I still found myself captivated by this book. The cast of characters which Kingsolver has created in this novel feel so real you can imagine yourself meeting them at the grocery store or even becoming friends. Each character is given a unique identity and a set of personal battles which make them both interesting and relatable. Although not all of us have adopted a stranger's child as the main character of this book does and not all of us are illegal immigrants as two of the supporting characters are, I think we have all experienced struggles with personal identity and the capricious nature of life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The bean trees was a very interesting story to read to hear about the girls life story and where all she travled in her life trying to get out of the state she is in Kentucky. She ends up with a child that a women just left in her car which was somehthing that was put on her shoulders as to moving away from things and getting away of any stress. I would recomined this book to those who are wanting to move out of state and search for a new life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was Kingsolver's first novel and it's very well written. Makes you want to read it in one sitting. Charming story. OK for middle school and up.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Lacked character development but overall an easy, entertaining read.
2ufgators More than 1 year ago
A story of friendship, hardship, and new beginnings......definately a win from Kingsolver! Her stories of transformation always keep me coming back........Who wouln't love Turtle?!
krspdx More than 1 year ago
I read this book with my niece. This was assignment for her, freshman year high school. I enjoyed it and thought it was thought provoking touching. I love the Main Character and thought she had great spirit and an independent women- A good lesson for young women.....
Milda-TX on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Kingsolver's first novel is an easy-to-read, PG-rated story that had me smiling at some lines and laughing out loud at others. A teenager leaves her home in Kentucky, travels through Oklahoma (where she adopts a child), and travels as far as Tucson before settling in with her new family. Loved the way the little girl speaks in vegetables.
crimson-tide on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is definitely a book worth reading. It is a compassionate and uplifting tale which concerns friendship, love, belonging, our responsibilities to others and the idea of parenting and family. What I really like about Barbara Kingsolver's writing is that her characters are always 'real' three dimensional people, even if they are a little unusual sometimes. And she has a gift for writing dialogue that flows naturally and fits the characters - in this instance Southern USA - without being at all jarring to those of us who are not American. There is humour here too. Taylor is an engaging, positive character and overall the book is hopeful. Your family is who and what you define it to be, and life is often what you make of it.
flutterbyjitters on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Good book. Better than poisonwood bible. Moves quicker and is more entertaining.
karriethelibrarian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An enjoyable story about a woman trying to find herself by escaping her life and moving to Arizona. At the same time Taylor does not want any responsibilities and suddenly finds herself the caretaker of a small, painfully quiet, abandoned little girl. As she starts trying to move on with her life, Taylor can't help but think that something horribly wrong has happened to the girl, who she names Turtle. This is a beautiful story of the love and trust that Taylor and Turtle manage to find with each other, despite the odds and the problems they encounter. You won't be disappointed in this wonderful book. And don't miss the sequel--Pigs From Heaven.
mrstreme on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
My reading history of Barbara Kingsolver's works is backwards. Most people start with her award-winning fiction, such as The Poisonwood Bible or The Lacuna, while others have been following her career since the beginning with The Bean Trees or The Prodigal Summer. Nope, not me. I first discovered Kingsolver through her non-fiction essay collections, High Tide in Tucson and Small Wonder, and fell not only in love with her writing - but also her philosophy on the world and nature. Reading her non-fictional essays first gave me a unique perspective as I began to read her novels. While her essays provided data and hard facts on issues such as colonialism, environmental concerns, war and immigration, her fiction told the stories of how these devastating factors affect people. And that's no different with Kingsolver's first book, The Bean Trees.In The Bean Trees, we meet a precocious young girl named Taylor, who decides to leave her hillbilly Kentucky town and head west in a beat-up VW bug. As she travels through Oklahoma, she stops at a local hole in the wall, where a Native American woman approaches her with a small child. The woman insists that Taylor take the girl, despite Taylor's protest, and before realizing it, Taylor is entrusted with a young girl who seems catatonic. Not knowing what to do, Taylor continues her journey west, literally driving until the wheels fall off her car, ending up in Tucson, Arizona.There, Taylor and the girl, who she nicknames Turtle, begin a life together. Along the way, we meet colorful, real-to-life characters who help Taylor and her quest to lay down some roots. Namely, we meet Esteban and Esperanza, illegal immigrants from Guatamala, who tell their story of horror and heartbreak. Through these characters, Kingsolver shows the human side of immigration - the "why" people take a chance on coming to America and risk deportation.Kingsolver published The Bean Trees in 1988, and even at the start of her career, she was a magnificent storyteller. Certainly, like all writers, her craft has evolved, but she's never lost sight of her values and desire to make a change. I liked the punchy, humorous style of this book, and I look forward to reading Pigs In Heaven, the next book about Turtle's life, very soon.
Amy_Joy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I absolutely love this book and plan to read it again and again. Barbara Kingslover's writing style is beautiful, and the relationships are so true-to-life. A great read! (Concise too!)
kerrycarter76 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book was excellent! A friend gave me this book to read and she insisted that I read it right away. I was a little reluctant but I was glad I decided to give it a chance. It is a captivating story of a young outspoken girl and her life-changing road trip. It is written in a real-life way and keeps the reader interested with a colorful dialogue. I would recommend it to anyone who likes a good storyline and interesting word structure.
ifionlyhada on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. The story was one of love that you didn't know that you needed. It is about giving a little of yourself and getting back more than you ever expected. I enjoyed the journey.
barefootlibrarian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Kingsolver is easily one of my favorite authors, and this book is very near the top of the list of my favorite books. (If I could ever reach the conclusion there *is* a top of that list.) This is a very different coming of age story. The imagery is beautiful, and the way all the stories come together and diverge again is breathtaking. Pulling together and highlighting all the things worth fighting for in growing up, family, faith and love, The Bean Trees will stay with you long after you've read the last page.
Maggie_Rum on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I loved this story! It is unexpectedly beautiful.