Friday, May 3, 2013

2013 Reading Goal: The Bean Trees & Pigs in Heaven

The latest books on my 2013 reading challenge are The Bean Trees and Pigs in Heaven both by Barbara Kingsolver.

Rating: 5 stars (The Bean Trees) and 4 stars (Pigs in Heaven)

I first read The Bean Trees back in 2006, I believe. I remember really enjoying the book, but by 2013 I had completely forgotten why. So I decided to reread it…one of my favorite things to do. There is something exciting about revisiting a book to see if it holds true to you. I’m always wondering if my experiences with books are affected by what books I had just read, where I’m at emotionally, who recommended a book to me, etc. When a book can ring true with me even with a 7 year gap in between…yep, those are the good ones.

And The Bean Trees is one of them. In fact, I think I might have loved it even more the second time through. I seriously devoured this book. I read it in an incredibly short amount of time because I just couldn’t put it down. I immediately went out and purchased Pigs in Heaven because I couldn’t bear thinking that I had to leave the world of Taylor Greer.  I seriously finished The Bean Trees and then immediately started Pigs in Heaven and…well…eh…it lost some of its sparkle.

This made me start thinking why this could be. And I’ve come up with two reasons.

1.       Pigs in Heaven is told from different perspectives so you see a more encompassing world
2.       And in this world, Taylor Greer is lost, scared, and depressed

When you start The Beans Trees, you meet this determined girl who is ready to escape her small town life…and she does it. She hops in her beat up bug and just starts driving. Taylor is tough, spunky, and spirited. She says what she wants and isn’t often scared. She is everything I like in my lead female characters.  She goes through challenging times and has low moments but overall she is confident and secure in who she is.

So suddenly I start Pigs in Heaven and I have to start reading about these other characters who are in Taylor’s life. Like her mom who was left behind in the small town Taylor escaped. And her boyfriend, Jax, who doesn’t really know if Taylor likes him or not. And even about people from the Indian Reservation who weren’t painted in the greatest light in The Bean Trees. No, no, no, I thought. I just wanted to go back to Taylor Greer’s world where she can learn, grow, and still be her wonderful, spunky self. Nope. In fact, Barbara Kingsolver actually takes you one step further out of your happy Bean Tree world. She makes your beloved strong Taylor Greer into someone who is scared, lost, and depressed. And in a very believable way. Taylor is threatened (I won’t go into the whole story…just read it) and so she runs. Kingsolver has struck the one chord that can make Taylor vulnerable and scared enough to run.

Whaat?! Taylor Greer isn’t supposed to run from challenges! And this is when I flung the book aside and figured I’d just reread The Bean Trees again. But the more I started thinking about this…the more I realized that Barbra Kingsolver was a genius.

She made Taylor be vulnerable. She made her be scared. And isn’t this a much more believable and more real character than the I-just-graduated-high-school-and-I-can-do-and-say-and-be-anything? Taylor has to depend on other people to help her see what the right thing is.  She needs help from the very people she has somewhat pushed aside in the past. Suddenly, Taylor is more human. Yeah she might not be as fun to read about…but she reflects a truer version of what a strong woman is. She is now someone who sometimes struggles, someone who has to be vulnerable, and someone who needs help.

So while I didn’t always love the journey…overall the combo between The Bean Trees and Pigs in Heaven is necessary to see an inspiring character grow realistically. Kingsolver gives an honest depiction of a strong woman actually living in this big world of ours.


As I mentioned in my 2013 goal, I’m reading mostly women lit that focuses on women authors or complicated, strong female characters this year. Here is the list of my previous book reviews that I've done on this journey:

First: Madame Bovary
Second: Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress
Third: Patron Saint of Liars 
Fourth: Bird by Bird

Fifth: Frida Kahlo
Sixth: Women Seeing Women  

Seventh: Bridget Jones's Diary 
Eighth: Dorothy Parker's Complete Short Stories 
Ninth: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

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