Little Bee By Chris Cleave

Little Bee By Chris Cleave - A book full of meaty topics including conditions inside a detention centre in the UK, oil wars, suicide and more. So does the author manage to pull it off?

There really are some wonderful discussion topics in Little Bee by Chris Cleave and this book totally split our book club - there were those that loved it, and those that detested it? Why? (You'll have to see our comments at the end of this page to find out!)

"Little Bee" is a story of contrasts & twists & turns; of highs & lows; of hope & hopelessness. And throughout the story, the reader is taken on an emotional roller-coaster of a journey.

It is also called "The Other Hand" in the UK if you struggle to find it there.

The Plot / Story

Little Bee by Chris Cleave

Here is a Summary of Little Bee by Chris Cleave:

Little Bee is from Nigeria and is a 16 year old girl and an asylum seeker. She  has spent 2 long years in a detention centre in the UK. We learn about the dreadful conditions here and how hard it is to leave.

Little Bee is lucky (she can speak English which is an asset) and gets to leave courtesy of another inmate who has performed sexual favours with one of the guards.

She goes in search of the only people she knows in London - a couple called Sarah and Andrew. They had met some years before on a beach in Nigeria.

We know that something sinister happened on that beach, but the book keeps us waiting for the answer.

I won't ruin this part of the book by telling you what happened, but it is an event that means Little Bee is tied to Sarah in particular. The incident happened with the back drop of the oil wars, when Little Bee and her sister are being driven out of their villages to make room for the oil to be drilled. The soldiers will stop at nothing to get what they want

Essentially Sarah saves Little Bees life but Andrew is less brave, allowing her sister to die. The book gives us further glimpses of the atrocities that occurred to Little Bee and in particular her sister.

Back in London, Sarah, an editor of a magazine with a little boy, lives with her husband Andrew in Kingston Upon Thames. It's clear that their relationship is strained and we soon learn that Sarah has continued her affair with Lawrence (also married with a baby!)

Andrew is very depressed, never quite being able to get over the events on the beach and actually commits suicide, shortly after the phone call from Little Bee. We watch Sarah try to cope and see her small son running around in his Batman costume as his way of coping with the death of his father.

Little Bee turns up and Sarah feels compelled to let her stay and she is a great help to both Sarah and Batman during this difficult time.

Lawrence is less helpful and thinks Sarah should not be harbouring an asylum seeker, who has no paperwork to allow her to stay in the country. He is after all, worried about his job at the home office.

We learn that Little Bee is less than perfect though and probably contributed to the suicide of Andrew. Little Bee had shown up at the house that morning and Andrew thought he was hallucinating Little Bee. She did  nothing to make him think otherwise, still angry about the death of her sister.

At an outing into London, Batman disappears and the police are called. Unfortunately as Little Bee tries to help, her illegal status is revealed.

She is of course deported back to Nigeria. Sarah and Batman manage to get on the same plane as her, and Sarah is determined to do everything she can to allow Little Bee to be free.

We are however left with little hope that she will be able to escape prison or the authorities in Nigeria. But like her name suggests, she has left a sting (or mark) on the world.


Little Bee by Chris Cleave

Little Bee is one of the two narrators & she shines. She's remarkably mature for her age which is not surprising considering what she's been through. Inspite of her traumas she proves herself to be kind & thoughtful, shown especially with Charlie, but all the time we know her, she's overwhelmed with fear, particularly of men.

This even includes Lawrence for he has no sensitivity for her situation. As in Nigeria, she's in the way!

Little Bee's experiences make Sarah seem shallow; she even says she is.

Lawrence accuses her of never listening, she fails to communicate with her husband & she cheats on him.

However, she's a good mother & is determined to help Bee. Also through Bee & their shared experience, she gains in self knowledge;

"----Little Bee has changed me Lawrence; I can't look at her without thinking how shallow my life is."

And she says of her son in his Batman outfit," You start off like Charlie. You start off thinking you can kill all the baddies in the world."

Andrew & Lawrence.

These two characters in Little Bee by Chris Cleave, are not very well developed at all. They tend to fizzle out. Through Lawrence, Cleave emphasises how we don't care about other people's problems. He cheats on his wife, yet makes a baby with her & simply wants Bee to disappear for he fears for his job, ironically at the Home Office, & he wants Sarah for himself to continue their affair.

Cleave doesn't mention his adultery  & he disappears from the story. Like most people, he isn't interested in the injustices in life. Governments, bad people & huge companies out for profit depend on this attitude!

Andrew is crucial to the story of the beach & later we get the impression that he would have turned out to be a good guy but, he conveniently disappears as Cleave concentrates on his two narrators & the rest of their story. It's Bee who excuses them when she says,"We are all trying to be happy in this world."


Little Bee by Chris Cleave

Here are the main themes of Little Bee by Chris Cleave that we enjoyed discussing:


In Britain, Detention Centres & the appalling treatment of immigrants in them, feature strongly. It is easy to feel the writer's anger when we read that some of the girls, having been incarcerated for two years, including Little Bee, escape because one of the girls offers sexual favours to one of the guards.

Along with this, when we are told that the female inmates have to apply for tampons, one at a time & in writing, it makes the quote at the beginning of the book ludicrous & shameful.

"Britain is proud of its tradition of providing a safe haven for people fleeing from persecution & conflict."

In Nigeria, we learn about the oil giants clearing whole villages, killing everyone to make sure they can't tell the outside world of their treachery. Bee & her sister suffer nightmares & fear such as most people have no idea of, thankfully, as they make a bid to escape. Bee never loses this fear particularly of men. Cleave includes his views on globalisation several times too.


There is a lack of communication between Sarah & Andrew which has serious consequences. Had he confided his intentions to her about what he is working on, she might have seen him differently instead of too late.


These permeate the whole book as we see in the huge differences between Nigeria & Britain. On the beach when the killers come & worse even, when they rape her sister & tear her to pieces, contrasts to an immeasurable degree with the domestic details of life in suburban, middleclass Kingston upon Thames. Horrific!
Contrasts with the Detention Centre & Kingston upon Thames also cause the reader discomfort for this is on British soil under a Democratic Government, a caring elected group.

We also note how the ordinary runs alongside the extraordinary. Sarah can barely cope with what happens to Bee's sister. She tends to dwell on the routine needs of everyday life, her family & her job. We see all these contrasts throughout the story including contrasting characters.

Book Club Questions

Little Bee By Chris Cleave

Little Bee by Chris Cleave (kindle and hard copy) has a good set of questions for you to work through but here are some that we enjoyed discussing:

Were shocked by the conditions in the detention centre?

What is the significance of Little Bee's name?

Why is Charlie always in his Batman outfit?

Do you feel that the novel loses some of its early promise after we know the story of the beach?

The author uses contrasts to make his point. Discuss some of the contrasts in this book?

What do you think the writer means by Globalisation?

Do you find much humour in this novel?

What is the point of Lawrence? What do you think of him as a character?

Does Andrew redeem himself, once you know his intentions are to write a book?

Cleave feels very strongly about The Detention Centres & Globalisation. Do you think  he gets his message across successfully?

Little Bee is called "The Other Hand" in the UK. Which title do you prefer and why?

Are there any weaknesses to the story?

Did you like the fact that there were two narrators? Which one did you believe more?

What would you have done at the beach?


Little Bee by Chris Cleave

This book totally split our book club, with scores ranging from 1/10 to 9/10. That in itself gave cause for a great debate and discussion about the merits of this book.

Noone can deny that this book covers some fantastic topics and for that, it should be a great book.

But for some, the events weren't believable and the characters weren't developed enough to make the book plausible. Whilst they wanted to like this book, the just couldn't!

To begin with, the story is a real page turner as we anticipate what might have happened on the beach, but then it loses its impact. It stays that way until we find out what happens to Little Bee later.

Some weaknesses that we discussed included:

Would Bee really be able to speak English SO well after two years & be able to read The Times at her age?

The writer brings in Lawrence but then doesn't mention his adultery, concentrating more on the significance of his job at The Home Office. A little too convenient?

We also questioned whether the detail of her sister's death was really necessary - gratuitous violence? Surely we could have used our own imagination?

All in all, even the book clubbers that gave this book 1/10 would still recommend Little Bee by Chris Cleave as a great book club book. Fab discussion indeed.

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