Little Bee by Chris Cleave in 2012 as the book I was to give out for World Book Night. I had never read it, but I gave it out anyway. After having my own copy for almost a year, I finally got around to reading it.
The story is told through the eyes of a young Nigerian refugee girl (Little Bee) and the English woman she stays with. Little Bee fled Nigeria after her entire village was mercilessly killed and she manages to get away from "the men" as she calls them. She stows away on a tanker ship, but is found and immediately put into a detention center when she reaches England, where she spends 2 years learning English as the English speak it in hopes that it would be a mark in her favor for gaining citizenship one day. She is "accidentally" released and finds herself with nowhere to go. She calls the only English people she knows and makes her way to their London home. Sara, the Englishwoman, are connected through the trauma they faced when they met in Nigeria. She and her husband meet Little Bee and her sister on a Nigerian beach where they too find themselves face to face with "the men". Unable to save the girls from their unfortunate fate, Sara's husband falls into a deep depression after the incident and eventually commits suicide, leaving Sara and their 4 year old son alone. Once Little Bee arrives (on the day of the husband's funeral), Sara makes it her mission to help her become legal. After a confrontation with the police that is extremely silly when you look back at it, Little Bee gets deported, though Sara and her son still try to get her back to safety.
My consistent thought while reading this book was, "Wow, this is depressing," and honestly it never gets any less so as you read on. It's an incredibly sad story. The book is very well written. Chris Cleave has a way with wording each sentence so that it flows almost poetically. Also, he does a fantastic job at writing through the eyes of Little Bee. Her character is by far the most endearing. Aside from those aspects, I didn't really like much else. I found the other characters unlikable and the more I read about them, the more this sentiment stuck. I understand the issue the author was trying to bring awareness too, and really my heart goes out to those in similar circumstances, but the secondary characters really put me off and then the whole last chapter seems like it was rush when writing it. Cleave gives so much attention to every little detail throughout the course of a few days, and then he suddenly is just hashing out the quick facts of what must have been a week at least in the last chapter - like someone told him he needed to wrap it up to publish or something.
I really wanted to like this book and had heard wonderful things about it, but it just wasn't something I can say I would seek out to read if I had known what I know now. I'm glad I read it, but once was enough.