Karen White's The Beach Trees Brings Hope To Tragedy

BlogHer Review

As I began to read The Beach Trees by Karen White, I entered not just one world of mystery and searching but two. The book starts with Julie Holt, a woman who is now guardian of five year old Beau, who is headed to Biloxi and the house her friend Monica left to her. She is alone and confused and drifting in her life, determined only to do right by Beau. She arrives in Biloxi only to discover that the house has been destroyed by Katrina five years earlier.

She manages to make her way to New Orleans where her friend’s family lives -- the family Monica hasn’t seen or spoken to the ten years since she ran to New York. Julie isn’t sure whether or not to trust them or to find some other way to support Beau. She gives them a chance, however, as she knows the pain of a family searching for a loved one -- her sister was kidnapped seventeen years earlier, and Julie still searches for leads daily.

As she gets to know the Guidrys, the reason Monica ran from them becomes more and more a mystery. She never admitted it to Julie and never let her brother or grandmother know either. Monica’s grandmother Aimee has plenty of stories to share with Julie, as she feels that sharing each other’s stories will help solve the mystery, especially once it comes to light that Julie’s grandfather painted a portrait of Aimee’s mother-in-law -- who also disappeared, never to be seen again.

The book was far more involved than I was expecting from a summer read, but I enjoyed it. The characters were complex and varied, with few flat stereotypes. They weren’t -- pun intended -- open books, and I enjoyed getting to know them. In the first meeting, I expected Carol Sue, a neighbor in Biloxi, to become a rival of some sort given some asides from Julie, which threw me later. There were a few instances of this, where there was some mistrust shown for various reasons that was never followed up on in the book. I would have preferred to either have it become an issue addressed in the book or simply never mentioned.

I did enjoy one unusual aspect of The Beach Trees: there were two protagonists, Julie and Aimee. We learned a lot about both of them and their stories. Aimee had more than her fair share of tragedy as she grew from a gangly preteen visiting her grandmother in New Orleans to marrying one of the Guidry sons next door. The full story comes out over time, the challenges and triumphs and loss that makes Aimee who she is, and explains so much about all the family interactions. I was disappointed midway through the book when Trey -- Monica’s brother -- blithely reveals who Aimee married, but the later story was well worth the wait.

The details that Karen White puts into the book, from how one survives a direct hit by Hurricane Camille in 1969 to the Katrina Trees that have been carved along Beach Boulevard in Biloxi today, really help bring the entire book to life. I feel as though I can see the scars on Xavier’s face. The neediness of Lacy -- a girlfriend of one of the Guidry boys -- is palpable, though it is never called that in the book. I don’t simply dislike Monica and Trey’s father who is not a part of their lives; I feel sorry for him and the life he now leads because I understand how to get to where he is today.

The story isn’t formulaic, and it doesn’t simply become the easy full circle where Julie’s missing sister is related to Aimee’s mother-in-law’s disappearance which is related to the reason for Monica’s running away. Life isn’t that simple and pat, and neither is The Beach Trees. I wouldn’t recommend putting it down for days at a time, as the complexity of it will leave you scratching your head trying to remember how everything is connected with what you’ve read previously. I definitely enjoyed the book, and this is another of the authors whose other books I will seek out this summer.


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