The Beach Trees: A Tribute to Renewal and Perserverance
In her thoughtfully written and heartwarming novels, Karen White always manages to introduce nuances and details of the culture she is trying to illuminate, and her new novel, The Beach Trees, is no exception (beach trees being a reference to the animal carvings made out of the dead trees destroyed by Hurricane Katrina). It is a moving exploration of the bonds of friendship and perseverance in the face of adversity and hostile environments. It features one of her trademark romances between strong and difficult characters, who often exhibiting surprising vulnerability as she peels back the layers, much to the impatience and delight of her readers.
It's easy to see why her novels and characters are so addictive and so loved. Julie Holt is the latest of her charming female characters whom fate has set upon the path of discovery, healing and renewal. Holt arrives in at Biloxi, Mississippi property with the child of her best friend Monica Guidry. Newly appointed as Beau's guardian, she has also been granted part ownership in a house which turns out to be missing from the lot before her, a casualty of hurricane. Though she is still dealing with her own grief (continuing her search for a younger sister who went missing years ago), Julie sets out to find out why Monica fled from her family and left her only son in the care of someone other than a close relative.
The Beach Trees is an absorbing read. Hurricane Katrina was the first was the first big storm where I followed the news coverage and started to understand the devastation wrought by the tragic combination of natural and man made disasters. Beyond feeling compassion for those who lost family members, were injured and/or displaced from their homes, I had never considered why people would continually stay and rebuild their homes in the face of repeated threats from the environment, but White deftly illustrates the history and community that causes people to cleave to their roots.
Several threads of mystery run through the story, for example Monica's grandmother Aimee Guidry relates the story of being courted by two brothers in the beauty of Biloxi, Mississippi and New Orleans, Louisiana amidst trying to find out what happened the night her mother died; there is a tense but burgeoning relationship between Julie and Monica's brother Trey (one wonders how that will end up); and Julie, of course, is trying to find any answers she can in the disappearance of her sister. Alternating between story lines of the past and present, this proved a frustrating read at times because I wanted to hear as much about the past -- and the brothers Aimee was torn between -- and why Monica left, as fast and as much as possible. I didn't find the storyline in the present to be quite as compelling, but that's just a matter of preference because White does an excellent job of balancing the two.
Ultimately The Beach Trees is a satisfying story of hope and redemption, and I must admit to being incredibly touched by the end -- so much so that I shed a few tears. Fans of White's previous novels will not be disappointed, for this is a rich and rewarding story that is not one to be missed.