Little Bee (The Other Hand)
by Chris Cleave
Charlie is Sarah's four-year-old son, and he's reason enough to read this story. Before we dive into what we think of him, here are some good reference points from our beloved bookshelf. For one, Charlie reminds us of the nine-year-old Oskar Schell. If you don't know that character already, Oskar is the super-intelligent narrator of Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, a controversial novel about the loss of Oskar's father in the bombings of September 11, 2001. There's also a bit of five-year-old Danny Torrance (star of Steven King's The Shining) in Charlie. Like Charlie, Danny was in a pitched battle with the evils that want to claim his father Jack, and he loses.
Like the stories of these other youngsters, Charlie's tale is about how he deals with the loss of his father. How does one, exactly, explain to a four-year-old that his father has hanged himself in the study? No way are we taking on that task if we can help it. Sarah, too, is definitely saving that conversation for a later date, but Charlie puts quite a bit together using his bat-senses.
And, yes, Charlie is Batman for the summer of 2007. This is more than a catchy gimmick. Charlie's reasons for becoming Batman are revealed slowly, through Little Bee's and Sarah's narratives.
Charlie seems to become Batman around the time Andrew's depression is coming to a climax. He views his father's mental illness as a version of "fighting baddies" (2.56). When Charlie tells Little Bee, "if I is not Batman all the time then mine daddy dies" (9.94) and "I was at mine nursery […] when the baddies got mine Daddy" (9.102), we can piece things together. Charlie became Batman to help Andrew fight the baddies, but because he was at nursery school (and not wearing his Batman costume, to boot), Andrew died.
Charlie seems to know and not know that Andrew is dead. His comments show that he thinks that if he's Batman all the time (which means wearing the suit to nursery school now) Andrew might somehow come back to life, or it will be revealed that he's been alive the whole time (just kidnapped or something).
The most important part of Charlie's experience happens on the last pages, as we discuss in "What's Up With the Ending?" When Little Bee reveals to him that her real name is Udo (which means "peace") Charlie is finally able to take off his Batman costume and romp in the surf with the other kids, finally "wearing" nothing but his own, natural skin. In this moment, Charlie begins to let go of his guilt about his father's death and embrace childhood without feeling like the fate of the world hangs in his hands.