Book Review: Little Bee by Chris Cleave

Little Bee by Chris Cleave

My on-line Dutch book group, the boekgrrls, chose this book as our March read. As it was on my wish list anyway, I was eager to read it.

Little Bee: What it is about

The book is told from the perspective of Little Bee, a 16-year old Nigerian girl in a detention center for illegal immigrants in the UK, alternated with the story told by Sarah, who is married to Andrew and has a small son, Charlie.

Through an administrative error, Little Bee is let out of the detention center, but without any valid documents, and she decides to go and find Andrew and Sarah, who she met two years earlier in Nigeria, on the beach.

The reader is fed information little by little about what happened on the beach and what happened since. I was in for some surprises!

Little Bee: What I thought


This was a good, but not a brilliant story. There was a lot of hype about this book, especially because there was no description on the back of the English copies, just a text saying “We don’t want to give anything away. But the story is fantastic, so buy the book.”

Well, the Dutch translation does have a description on the back cover (we wouldn’t spend our money, otherwise!) so I didn’t think it was bad of me to tell you a bit about it (above).

I enjoyed reading the book. It was an easy read but I learned quite a few things, especially about Nigeria, and about illegal immigrants in England.

The story was quite dramatic. It starts off with the reader blissfully unaware of the past and of the things still to come. I liked the way we were told bits of the story. It didn’t feel artificial, as a reader, I didn’t feel manipulated. Everything followed quite logically from one situation to the next.

I didn’t particularly like Little Bee or the other characters. But somehow that didn’t matter, because the story was strong enough to keep my interest.

I got this book: from the library, because it was the book of the month of March with the boekgrrls online book group

I read this in: Dutch, the original language is English

Number of pages: 240

First published: 2008

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Extras: Here’s a negative review of the book: http://athyrium.blogspot.com/2011/03/little-bee-or-other-hand.html

About Leeswammes
I'm owner and editor at bookhelpline.com. In my free time, I read and review books on my two blogs, Leeswammes' Blog and De Boekblogger.

27 Responses to Book Review: Little Bee by Chris Cleave

  1. Cindy says:

    Wish I had the time … sounds like an interesting book.

  2. Uniflame says:

    This sounds interesting! I am currently reading all different kinds of free by Jessica McCann. About slavery in America. It is not the same at all but the themes do overlap a bit, I think. I will place this on my to read list🙂 Thanks!

  3. Hmm, this sounds quite interesting actually. It’s not one I would have picked up I don’t think. Maybe if I come across it on sale I may pick it up.

    Love how the Dutch won’t spend their money without a description – made me laugh🙂

  4. This was one book that hooked me early on; loved it.

  5. JoAnn says:

    The audio was extremely well done, too – excellent reader!

  6. Aimee says:

    I was way more impressed with Little’s Bee’s voice than I was with the story – the Yuruba to English/ Pidgin English was so well done, and the rhythms were beautiful. I wonder if that comes across well in Dutch? Translations are so hard.

  7. Esme says:

    I had never wanted to read this. I think I opened it once in the bookstore and it just did not appeal to me. However you make it sound so much better.

  8. Marie says:

    I’ve had this book on my bookshelf for some time, but haven’t read it yet. Having no synopsis on the back of the book was slightly annoying, yet intriguing. I’ve read good things about the book and loved hearing what you had to say. Thanks for sharing the negative review, too. I love reading opposing views.

  9. I loved this book. I’m one of the weird people who loved the fact there was no description on the back – I hate spoilers!

    I met Chris Cleave last month and he is the loveliest man. I can’t wait to read his new one later this year.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Jackie, I remember you meeting him (well, your report on it). I hate spoilers *mucho* but I do like to get some indication what a book is about, and that was very well possible, in this case.

      I didn’t know there is a new book coming out – will be looking out for it.

  10. Marieke says:

    It’s interesting that you didn’t like the characters but enjoyed the story. Looking back on it a lot of the ‘suspense’ depends on the storyline being revealed bit by bit. Thanks for linking to my review!

    • Leeswammes says:

      Marieke, yes, I think you could be right! The book is more about the “suspense” and the setting(s) than the actual people.

      I think it’s only fair to link to your review. Some blog readers know that if I like it, they will (not) like it, but sometimes a second opinion is good!🙂

  11. Petra says:

    I remember reading this book with such high expectations (also due to the back cover of the English book, in this case titled The other hand) that it disappointed me in the end. But thinking back now, it really wasn’t all that bad. It’s just that I was expecting a life-changing story and this is not such a book.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Petra, thanks for visiting. With that English back cover you expect the most amazing book. But it isn’t. It’s just a nice story. So I’m glad I knew a bit more about it in advance.

      Even *This Book Will Save Your Life* by A. M. Homes won’t change your life, but it’s a great book (rich, lonely man makes friends) – ehm, you’re mentioning life-changing stories, that’s how I got to mention this book.🙂

  12. Trisha says:

    I’ve read so many reviews on this one, and even though the majority have been positive, I still haven’t picked it up. Bad me.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Trisha, there are too many nice books in the world, you can’t possibly read them all. But if you think this one is nicer than some of the other nice books you know about, then do pick it up!

  13. Katie says:

    I met Mr Cleave a couple of years ago – nice guy. I bought this book at that time, but haven’t read it yet, though my old supervisor at work raved about it. I read his other novel Incendiary, but didn’t like that at all, but I was told this one is very different and better.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Katie, its quite a quick read, so maybe you should get it read soon! I didn’t even know Cleave had written any other books. Not sure if I should try it, though.

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  15. Manon says:

    Hi Judith, my daughter got a book for her birthday last year, ‘The other hand’. She was pushing me to read it, because she liked it very much, but she kept on forgetting to bring it. Only this weekend, when she was staying with us, we discovered that I read it already – titled ‘Little Bee’. Googling learned that the book was published in the UK and Canada as ‘The other hand’ and in USA and Canada as ‘Little Bee’. I prefer the UK-title.
    My reading experience was much as yours. What I appreciated most was the tension between the shocking story and the sort of simplicity of the language. As Aimee writes above, I also loved the voice of Little Bee and the rhytm of the language, combined with the contents of the story.

    • Leeswammes says:

      That’s funny, Manon! It’s a pity books don’t have the same title in different countries, it’s so confusing!

      I agree that the simple language and the shocking story formed a great contrast.

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