This novel is published under two names: Little Bee in the US and The Other Hand in the UK. Not one, but two great titles. And they go great together, like peanut butter and chocolate. We think it should be called Little Bee/The Other Hand – taken together, the titles reflect the novel's focus on duality, on the coexistence of horror and hope, pain and love. Since they're not one big happy title, though, we'll explore them one at a time.
This title obviously refers to the novel's main protagonist, sixteen-year-old Little Bee, whose story is the focal point. Chris Cleave (who likes both titles) says,
Little Bee is a good title […] because the novel is really Little Bee's story, so it's a straightforward and an honest title. Also I like it because it sounds bright and approachable – and my aim with this novel was to write an accessible story about a serious subject. (source)
This title also captures the novel's interest in travel and movement – bees are known for being in flight or just constantly buzzing around. However, unlike Little Bee, these tiny creatures usually have a home to return to after their wanderings. In contrast, Little Bee comes to see the whole world, in a sense, as her home. When she decides to leave Sarah and Charlie, she thinks, "But now I understood that at last I could disappear into the human race […], as simply as the bee vanishes into the hive" (9.58).
Nonetheless, disappearing into the human race would mean disappearing from Sarah and Charlie. What pulls her back to them, more than anything, is her desire to protect Charlie, specifically from Lawrence. Little Bee's relationship with Charlie, her ability to set aside her own personal trauma to improve the life of a grieving little boy, is a big part of why she deserves to have the book named after her.
The Other Hand
This is much more sinister sounding title, as soon as you know the context – it references the finger Sarah cut off to save Little Bee's life. Sarah has a pretty cavalier attitude about her finger, saying, "At first you think it's a big deal and then you learn to use the other hand" (2.156). Sarah is talking about her own other hand, and maybe making a dirty joke at the same time, but the title actually references Little Bee's hand as well. In a poignant moment, Little Bee tells us,
I arranged my fingers underneath hers so that the only one of my fingers you could see was the one that was missing from Sarah's hand. I saw how it could be. I saw how we could make a life again. I know it was crazy to think it but my heart was pounding, pounding, pounding. (5.210)
The power of this title is in the power of this little moment. Little Bee's heart is pounding with excitement over the idea of two people coming together to provide what the other lacks. The image of two women from widely different backgrounds, shaped by wildly different experiences, clasping hands in this manner gives us something to think about for a long time.
All in all, we think this book is complicated enough to deserve two titles. What do you think?