When I was teaching, I was often forced to read swill then pass it along to my students without letting them know that I thought the book was a waste of time. Yet another mandatory read, The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver is a flop. Because Kingsolver is such an acclaimed author I can only assume her other works are phenomenal, however, if they are all written like this one, I fear there is no hope for the literary public. Had I picked up this novel of my own accord, I would have seen that the media commentary printed boldly across the top of the cover was from Glamour magazine; not exactly the choice I would have made had there been better comments to choose from. But alas, this is another book I was asked to teach to my junior class, and by golly, I was going to get through it if it killed me!
I think my biggest frustration with the novel isn’t the fact that the story is boring and lacks a clear direction; my biggest complaint is that the protagonist, Taylor Greer, is a completely inconsistent character. She changes her persona to conform to the situations at hand. If I were asked a simple question ranking higher on the Blooms scale such as, “How do you think Taylor would react to [blank] situation,” I would be completely unable to answer intelligently because the author has given no clear indication of WHO Taylor is at the root of her being. What is the point in trying to TEACH with a book so poorly written? How am I supposed to lead students’ understanding of character development if there is no development to be had? I understand this was Kingsolver’s first novel and I also have been told by many people how great some of her later works are (Poisonwood Bible being one of them). Why the textbook adoption committee at any school district would choose this novel as a mandatory read when there are clearly better books to be read is beyond my ability to fathom. Being forced to read poorly written and/or boring books is the reason many teenagers despise reading.
There will be no summary left for this one mostly because I don’t care to revisit the story to provide one. I would like to make one thing clear: my anger is not toward the author. This was her first book. With experience comes the ability to string a great novel. My anger has been caused by the fact that this novel found its way to a mandatory reading list at the high school where, at the end of the semester, I had too many students admit books like this one were the reason they didn’t read.