Karen White Built Greatness with The Beach Trees

BlogHer Review
It was March 2007. I was perched on the edge of a large stone circular fountain conveniently placed on a large plaza. The air was oppressively humid, but every once in awhile a slight breeze would lift up some of the flowing water and sprinkle it over the crowd. I was in Shreveport. That feeling -- that experience -- of the heavy and humid air, cooling drops of water, drawls of the strolling people, taste of redbeansandrice (it’s all one word), and sense of freedom has never left me. A few days ago, I was in Iowa and I was sitting in my living room reclined on my couch. Then, suddenly, a few pages into The Beach Trees by Karen White I was transported back to The South, only this time to N’awleans and Biloxi, Mississippi.. Like The South itself, the tone of this novel was sultry, mysterious, complex, and warm.

Ms. White frames a story in which two families become entangled and entwined years ago and this strange relationship is brought into the fore when two lonely women become friends. One, the troubled Monica, is a young mother who has a congenital heart condition that leads to her unfortunate death. The other, the unsuspecting Julie, has known heartbreaking loss since her youth -- first of a sibling and now the loss of her best friend, Monica. Monica doesn’t just leave Julie, she also leaves Julie a child and a house. Julie becomes the nurturing guardian for Monica’s young son and decides to move to Mississippi to the beautiful house of Monica’s stories in order to raise Julie’s new charge the way Monica had wished.

I always have a soft spot for noble yet contrary gentlemen and Ms. White exploited that to the hilt. It should come as no surprise that my favorite character in the book was Trey (although I also liked learning about Aimee’s relationships through her flashbacks interspersed with Julie’s story) and I enjoyed watching him come to grips with his striking loss and grief as he rebuilt his life. Interestingly, one of the major themes of the book was that of building and rebuilding. Ms. White touched on why people rebuild (literally -- in hurricane-stricken areas; figuratively -- after any tragedy that touches a life) and provided some thought-provoking insights.

A great murder mystery with interesting themes, twists, and a masterful melding of storylines, The Beach Trees is a must-read. I’m excited to check out other novels by Ms. White since this book was one I just couldn’t put down. I’m also looking forward to re-reading The Beach Trees while I lay in my hammock in the heat and allow myself to be transported to the South. Again.

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