Searching for Home in The Beach Trees
Does searching for one thing prevent you from finding anything else? In The Beach Trees, Karen White tells the story of Julie Holt and Aimee Guidry, two women from different generations, different cities, different lives, who meet through tragedy and discover they have more in common than they could ever have imagined.
White’s attention to detail is superb. Her descriptive imagery of both New Orleans and Biloxi is achingly beautiful; she truly brings the reader into the setting of the story, which I think is crucial to the emotional involvement of the reader in both Julie’s and Aimee’s stories. She successfully shifts back and forth between Aimee’s story, which takes place in the 1950’s/1960’s, and Julie’s story, which is set in 2010, keeping the mood of the different decades intact.
Julie and Aimee have both lost someone important to them at a young age; Julie’s younger sister disappeared, and Aimee’s mother was murdered in her presence. Their lives intersect when Aimee’s granddaughter Monica, Julie’s surrogate sister, dies and gives guardianship of her young son to Julie. Loss is a pervasive thread throughout their stories -- both personal loss and the loss brought upon New Orleans and Biloxi by past and present hurricanes.
White buoys this sense of loss with the perseverance and resiliency of the people living along the Gulf, people that regroup and rebuilt and renew their lives in the face of even the most tragic circumstances. The parallels between the feelings of Julie and Aimee align to create a feeling of kindred spirits, a feeling which drives the story forward in a compelling and realistic way.
Personally, I felt more invested in Aimee’s story until more than halfway through the novel, which I regretted a little as I read. The Beach Trees moves back and forth between the perspective of Julie and Aimee, and I found myself looking forward to Aimee’s flashbacks while reading about Julie’s present actions. As White delves more and more into Julie’s sense of loss about her sister, I began to feel more attached to her character, which propelled me forward to finish the book quickly, because I truly wanted to know both the answer to the mystery presented in the story and how Julie would resolve her own feelings of searching for someone she may never find.
The Beach Trees is the type of book I truly enjoy reading, a tightly woven narrative based firmly in emotionally realistic characters and filled with a lovely use of language. I absolutely recommend it, especially to anyone who admires the rich history and beauty of the Gulf area of the United States.
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