The Bean Trees Study Guide

The Bean Trees By Barbara Kingsolver

Taylor Greer leaves everything in her Kentucky life behind to make a name for herself, including her name (which was Marietta). While driving through the Cherokee Nation, her car breaks down, and she goes for lunch. When she returns, as she is ready to leave, a Cherokee woman drops a abused-looking child wrapped in a blanket on the passenger seat, asks her to take it, and leaves in a pickup truck. The child grasps Taylor's clothes so hard it reminds her of a mud turtle - so she names her Turtle, and commits to being the child's adopted mother.

The pair move to Tucson, Arizona, where Taylor gets a job at a strange business called 'Jesus is Lord Used Tires', which is also a shelter for political refugees from Guatemala. Two of those refugees, Estevan and Esperanza, become Taylor's friends. Looking for a place to live, Taylor rents a room from LouAnn Ruiz, and the two become fast friends as well. Together with LouAnn's son Dwayne, they form something like a family.

Eventually, Turtle begins to speak. Her first word is "bean", and she rattles off vegetable names regularly. One day, someone tries to kidnap Turtle, but a blind neighbor whacks the perpetrator with her cane, and Turtle escapes -- but retreats into muteness again. A social worker gets involved, and learns that Taylor has no legal right to Turtle at all, a fact that Taylor vows to fight, whatever it takes.

Taylor takes Estevan and Esperanza to Oklahoma to a safe house, and looks for Turtle's parents while there. When they fail to find them, Estevan and Esperanza pose as Turtle's parents and sign Turtle over to Taylor's care. On the way home, Turtle begins to speak again, this time naming the people in her family as well as the vegetables she loves.

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