Beach Trees: Lessons of Tragedy and Hope
Karen White redefines the meaning of family and community in the novel The Beach Trees. The theme throughout the novel demonstrates “it’s great courage that offers great kindness.” The main character Julie learns this through rediscovering the meaning of family and community as she unravels the pieces of the distant past only to discover a more promising future.
In the beginning of the novel Julie is stuck in the past, barely moving forward in the present. She comes from a family torn from the disappearance of her younger sister. It is this loss of her sister which shatters Julie’s family as they were paralyzed by time never knowing what truly happened to her.
It is only when Julie moves to New York, develops a bond with her friend Monica, that she discovers the sister she once lost. The one question Julie has always wondered about Monica was why she chose to disappear from her own family in New Orleans without a trace.
This question is never answered for Julie as Monica passes away too soon leaving her with the parental rights of her son Beau and half of the property rights to her summer home River Song in Biloxi.
It is at that moment Julie realizes that she must move towards the present, as she makes her way to New Orleans, to reunite Beau with the family he has never known, and put the final pieces of the puzzle together to discover why Monica chose to vanish from her home.
It is only too soon that Julie rediscovers the meaning of family when she meets Monica’s grandmother Aimee. Julie learns from this woman’s resilience that throughout times of tragedy people can rebuild the shattered pieces of the past and move cautiously towards a brighter future.
As the novel unravels Julie gains insight through the mysteries of the past and amazed by the struggles of the people of New Orleans attempting to rebuild from the devastation of Katrina. It is the defiance of the people to rebuild after being struck by hurricane after hurricane which teaches Julie to move forward and live her life.
She learns that no man is an island, and realizes after the storm that there is hope. It as Julie comes back to rebuild River Song she discovers that she has found the home she has always been missing as she learns to depend on the warmth and kindness of strangers.
The wise words of Aimee “After all, what’re a few storms, pestilence, and wars? I think the uncertainties build character.” It is the uncertainties of life which make us who we are and offer us strength in times of need.
Karen White builds a novel on the structure of hope as people move forward building their lives from the devastation of missing loved ones, mystery, and natural disasters. It is through putting the puzzles of the past together which enables Julie to redefine the meaning of home by creating her own life within the community and learning to live for the future.