The Beach Trees Started With a Dead Girl
By Rita Arens on August 01, 2011
I was surprised that Karen White's The Beach Trees started with a dead girl.
Karen White is no beginner -- she's written nine novels -- and her writing is gorgeous. I loved the first sentence: "Death and loss, they plague you." And as a reader of writers for their writing as opposed to their plot, I love Karen White and want to read more of her novels. Her themes are clear -- the importance of family, of rebuilding, of home -- in this novel about a woman named Julie who finds herself the impromptu guardian of a little boy named Beau and the part-owner of a house in Biloxi. Julie, by the way, is from New York City.
But that -- plot twist in the beginning? -- was hard for me. I didn't have enough of the Monica/Julie backstory to understand why Julie would take on such a huge responsibility, especially when she discovered Monica's family in New Orleans very much wanted Beau. There was a mystery, sure, and Monica disappeared suddenly after cutting off all contact with her family, but they clearly loved her and accepted Beau, so the parent in me was really questioning Julie's sanity in taking on such a big task when -- in my mind -- she didn't have to.
I also didn't understand why she was so eager to just pull up stakes and leave her New York City life to go running all over the Gulf of Mexico with no discernible means of income. I kept stopping and thinking I'd missed something because I did not get the depth of Monica and Julie's relationship -- it didn't seem to be displayed enough to me since Monica was already dead when the book opened. There was also a side arc about Julie's sister having disappeared when they were kids, but aside from some calls to a detective, it was never clear to me what had happened, how her family had reacted, what it did to Julie other than causing her to adopt Monica like a sister, in a way. But the Monica-as-new-sister part didn't really work for me without a lot more backstory.
But! There's another narrator! Aimee Guidry, Monica's grandmother. And Aimee's part of the novel rocked. It was awesome. I loved the characters, I loved the intrigue, and most of all, I loved Aimee. I wanted the entire book to be about Aimee. This is a problem I usually have when stories are told from two different perspectives -- I fall in love with one and haughtily turn my back on the other. And maybe that's not fair.
The mystery part of the book delivered -- I didn't see the ending coming. The love story? I won't spoil it, but I liked one better than the other. I bet you can guess which one. All in all, I read this book at the swimming pool, in the car and everywhere in between, and it was very satisfying -- great summer read.
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