*SPOILER ALERT* *SPOILER ALERT*
The Bean Trees is set in the 80s but reads like something from the 50s. Most of the characters are what you'd call "do-gooders." Mattie helps illegal aliens disappear into the American landscape, Lou Ann is kind to everyone but herself, and Mattie a.k.a. Taylor takes on a Indian child to raise at the desperate request of a stranger.
TBT is told from the POV of Mattie, a twenty-something year old who grew up poor in Kentucky. Five years out of high-school she decides she wants to hop in her '55 Volkswagon and see just how far it'll take her. Her mom, a single woman with modern sensibilities, sends her off with a smile. Leaving Kentucky behind she decides to leave behind another item she's never liked, her name, Marietta, which had morphed into "Missy" during her school years. Deciding to go totally new, she picks the name Taylor.
Arriving in Tucson, Arizona, Taylor and the baby girl she calls Turtle soon meet and are befriended by Mattie who owns the Jesus is Lord Used Tire Repair & Store Shop where Taylor starts to work doing minor tire & car repairs. She and Turtle also respond to an ad for a roommate and that's when they meet Lou Ann, a sweet, kindhearted woman whose husband, Angel, had left her soon after the birth of their son, Dwayne Ray. Lonely for company she placed the ad. She and Taylor hit it off right away.
They get along great and life together settles into a comfortable routine. They make friends with the elderly women next door, Edna & Virgie, who babysit sometimes for them, and with Estevan & Esperanza, an illegal Guatemalan couple living above Mattie's shop.
Soon trouble arrives for Taylor, though. Honest to a fault, Taylor had never lied about being Turtle's birth mother. And after a visit to a pediatrician for a full work-up she was told she needed certain forms to make hers and Turtle's relationship "legal." But after the state gets involved they tell Taylor that because she has no documentation stating that Turtle's family willingly handed her over to her that the state will be placing her in foster care. Determined to keep Turtle she concocts a plan.
The plan involves driving Stevan & Esperanza to a safe house in Oklahoma and hopefully also finding the woman that gave her Turtle. But, though she finds the garage and diner that she broke down in front of, the original owner has sold the business and left town. Nowhere else to go, Taylor hatches a scheme and gets Estevan & Esperanza to pretend to be Turtle's relatives to a county clerk who seals and notarizes the necessary paperwork. He then tells Taylor that she'll receive a new birth certificate for Turtle in 6 months. That done she drives her friends to the sanctuary, tells them goodbye and heads home with her daughter safely beside her.
A simple, well-written story, but I struggled to remain interested, even though now I am glad I read it. I guess it's the type of story that grows on you, at first, you think it's trite, then it slowly draws you in, then next thing you know you're done. :)