Critical Overview

When The Bean Trees was published in 1988, critics received it enthusiastically. Early reviews praised Kingsolver's character development, her ear for voices and dialogue, her portrayal of friendship and community as necessary for survival, and her ability to comment on serious social issues without allowing those issues to overwhelm the story.

A 1988 review of The Bean Trees in Publishers Weekly called the novel "an overwhelming delight, as random and unexpected as real life." Focusing in part on the character of Taylor, the review referred to her "unmistakable voice" as "whimsical, yet deeply insightful," and it described the novel as "a marvelous affirmation of risk-taking, commitment, and everyday miracles."

Karen FitzGerald, in her 1988 review of the novel in Ms., called The Bean Trees "an entertaining and inspiring first novel." She judged the novel's strength as coming from its characters. She perceived Taylor—and the rest of the characters in The Bean Trees—as remaining "firmly at the novel's center," in spite of "the large sweep of [its] canvas." FitzGerald asserted that in spite of the novel's strong political views, Kingsolver's characters are vivid and believable enough that they never become "mouthpieces for the party line," causing politics to overshadow plot. She praised Kingsolver's portrayal of women's friendships and placed her within a tradition of women writers—such as Doris Lessing—who have written about women's friendships and communities as being "havens in a hard world."

In his 1988 review in The New York Times Book Review, Jack Butler stated admiringly that "Barbara Kingsolver can write" and viewed The Bean Trees "an accomplished first novel" that "is as richly connected as a fine poem but reads like realism." But while he praised Kingsolver's clarity and artistry, Butler had reservations about her character development and her skill at creating a plot. Unlike...

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