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Book review: Little Bee

"LITTLE BEE," by Chris Cleave, Simon & Schuster, 304 pages, $14 (reprint)

Some books have a way of capturing a reader's attention from their opening paragraphs.

"Little Bee" by Chris Cleave is one such novel.

Cleave has created a beautiful story that will alter the way readers look at immigration.

Little Bee is an inmate of two years at the Black Hill Immigration Removal Centre in the United Kingdom. She has done nothing wrong, save try to escape from certain death in her home country of Nigeria.

When Little Bee is finally released from the detention center, there is only one place she can think of going — to the home of Andrew and Sarah O'Rourke in the suburbs of London. They are the only people Little Bee knows.

But when Little Bee arrives, there is no happy welcome. Andrew is gone, and Sarah is struggling to pull her life together for the sake of her son.

Remembering a life-altering encounter with Little Bee on a beach in Nigeria, Sarah feels she must help the teen however she can. From this comes an unlikely, but inspiring, interdependence.

One cannot help but fall in love with Little Bee, whose spirit seems unbreakable in the wake of human tragedy. Her use of the Queen's English mixed with wit and spirit beyond her age make her a bright spot in today's literature.

On the other hand, Cleave presents Sarah with a kind of ironic outlook that is less charming but still endearing.

Written from Little Bee and Sarah's interchanging points of view, Cleave gives readers a multifaceted vision of some very real-life struggles facing refugees and the people who know them.

"Little Bee" is not a happy book. But it is one full of hope. It challenges the way we look at policies and regulations by putting readers in the uncomfortable situation of asking, "What would I do?"

Cleave humanizes a subject many shy away from, and in doing so, he creates an intensely satisfying piece that resonates far beyond the pages in a book.

Sensitivity rating: Occasional use of a so-called R-rated curse word, incidents of violence

e-mail: jharrison@desnews.com