Little Bee, originally named Udo, is a young, black Nigerian woman who develops a friendship with Sarah, a white English woman; they original meet in a random encounter on a beach in Nigeria. Both women undergo numerous traumatic events that threaten to destroy their lives. Sarah and her husband save Bee from a terrorist situation that kills her sister; however, Little Bee must spend two years in a detention center (effectively, prison).
Sarah’s life back in England continues with difficulty after Andrew, her husband, dies by suicide. The solace she finds with a lover, Lawrence, is only partial. She finds her career with a fashion magazine unfulfilling and finally makes a career change. Sarah finds hope for the future in her young son.
Bee adopts a pseudonym as part of her effort to reinvent herself. This process includes learning English while in the detention center and hiding her status as a refugee in England. Although she attributes her stay in England to her safety, however precarious, her divided loyalties are shown as she frequently imagines speaking with the Nigerian women who remain in the country, whom she addresses as the “girls back home.”
The growing closeness between Sarah and Bee forms the core of the novel. Despite their different backgrounds and situations, they are able to help each other through difficulties. While the relationship is convincing on some levels, it could be argued that the overall presentation of these transcultural connections often comes across as unrealistic.