The Beach Trees: Moving On Doesn’t Mean Forgetting
Have you lost a loved one? I believe that those who have will really be able to connect with and find solace in The Beach Trees by Karen White. As a bereaved mother I could appreciate and relate to how the author described the main character Julie's experience of grief and loss, especially some of the physical ways we respond and feel when a loved one dies or you lose contact with them. Julie wanted so much to find her younger sister Chelsea who disappeared when she was twelve years old. So many of Julie’s choices in life stemmed from that goal, though she knew it might be unattainable. My family and I struggled with secondary infertility and loss for over five years. We made a lot of choices during that time trying to reach our goal, after awhile realizing that we might never be able to get there.
I have never read Karen White before and her writing style grew on me throughout the novel. I liked how each chapter begins with a quote, some from famous writers and philosophers, along with others from the National Hurricane Center. There are so many great nuggets of wisdom in The Beach Trees, including lots of antidotes that those who have lived through loss can contemplate and appreciate. I found myself underlining passages frequently throughout the novel that really spoke to me.
The Beach Tress was a slower read than some books I have read recently. This was in part because there were all lot of characters, relationships and details to keep track of and digest. The plot device of having two intertwined stories, being told during two different time periods, by two different voices, was mind bending and kept me engaged. I always seemed to be left wanting more, when the author would bring me back in time to, another of the main characters, Aimee's life and world in the 1950's and beyond. Then just when I couldn't wait to find out what would happen next, she would send me to near present day to share more about Julie's life and world.
This story talks a lot about childhood memories, especially those made during “the summers when we were young…when the burdens of growing up had yet found us.” The author describes how places like “River Song” (which the main characters visited often throughout their lives, especially in the summertime, and are working to rebuild in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina) can “cast spells” on those that sleep under their roofs. Julie’s friend and Aimee’s granddaughter Monica, another key character in the story, felt that "the house and the beach were like a prayer to her. They soothed her soul like nothing else could." Having just spent a week with my family in my own childhood version of River Song, on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina, I can relate to how important those childhood memories are. In The Beach Trees Monica wanted her child to see and experience River Song and I have always wanted that for my own children (to get to visit Hilton Head). Prior to our recent trip, the last time my family and I went to Hilton Head was just six weeks after our baby girl's birth and death in 2008. It was a wonderful and healing place for me and my family to be so soon after our second child's death.
I vaguely remember following the coverage of Hurricane Katrina back in 2005. My heart certainly felt for those whose homes and lives were torn apart, but I don’t recall connecting with their stories or loss as much as I could have or maybe should have at the time. The Beach Trees, though a work of historical fiction, really helped me to better understand and appreciate what it is to lose so much and why some are willing to risk it all again and try to rebuild.
The inspiring “Katrina Trees” that the author talks about and the namesake for this novel represent how survivors can choose to make something good, even beautiful, come from very painful and challenging experiences in our lives. Having survived three pregnancy losses and the death of our newborn daughter, I understand how helpful it can be for “wounded healers,” who have experienced great pain and loss ourselves, to be able to minister to others as they grieve and heal. I hope that those who read this story and have been working through their own grief and loss will grow to understand, as Julie does, and I did, that “moving on doesn’t mean forgetting.” The Beach Trees is a bittersweet love story, as well as an intriguing mystery that held my interest and touched my heart.