Published May 2011
Trade Paperback, 403 pages
Reviewed by Sandra
When I began this novel and read that the story takes place in the American South, I envisioned it to be peopled with beautiful Southern belles, gracious aging matriarchs, handsome men, servants with secrets, set against a backdrop of elegant family homes. I wasn’t far off the mark. It’s all of that and more.
There are two narrators, a young woman named Julie whose sister disappeared years earlier. Julie has put her life on hold as she searches for her abducted sister. She travels to Biloxi, Mississippi to meet the family of her dear friend, Monica, who has died and left Julie a portrait, a beach house called River Song and custody of her 5-year-old son. Aimee, an aging woman who has lost her own family member is the matriarch of the family who welcomes both Julie and Monica’s son, Beau back to the family home. Throw in a handsome young lawyer and the rest is history, as they say.
There is an excellent development of the mystery that is at the heart of the story - it is a total surprise! Good character development of Julie allows the reader to see how she grows from an insecure young woman to becoming a person who has finally learned to relinquish the past and begin living her own life. She is a survivor.
The descriptions evoke the South. For example, describing Aimee’s home we read of “wide front steps led up to a gracious front wraparound porch dotted with wicker rocking chairs and more plants hanging from the porch ceiling. Marching turrets framed the front of the house like parentheses….Large double wooden doors sat in the middle, long rectangular windows in each polished door like drooping eyes staring warily at the encroaching garden.”
The novel is particularly interesting in that it takes place in the post-Katrina, post oil spill of 2010 Gulf Coast. The author describes some of the devastation experienced by the people there. She refers to “Katrina trees”, that is, trees that died when the storm surge brought in salt water and killed them. These beautiful oak trees were “too painful to look at” so artists began transforming them into different sculpture, such as dolphins, egrets and other animals. They became works of art. I “Googled” Katrina trees and was amazed at the ingenuity and vision of the artists. Beauty triumphed over death and destruction.
This story, then, is about survival and rebuilding . It’s a parallel story of those real, hard-working survivors of the Gulf Coast disasters and the fictional people in The Beach Trees. It’s a very good read.
Known for award-winning novels such as Learning to Breathe, the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance 2009 Book of the Year Award finalist The House on Tradd Street, the highly praised The Memory of Water, the four-week SIBA bestseller The Lost Hours, Pieces of the Heart, and her IndieBound national bestseller The Color of Light, Karen has shared her appreciation of the coastal Low country with readers in four of her last six novels.
Italian and French by ancestry, a southerner and a storyteller by birth, Karen has made her home in many different places.
Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, she has also lived in Texas, New Jersey, Louisiana, Georgia, Venezuela and England, where she attended the American School in London. She returned to the states for college and graduated from New Orleans’ Tulane University. Hailing from a family with roots firmly set in Mississippi (the Delta and Biloxi), Karen notes that "searching for home brings me to the south again and again."
Visit the author at her website, and become a fan on Facebook.
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Disclosure: Thanks to Trish Collins from TLC Tours and Penguin Books for sending me this book for review. I was not compensated in any other way, nor told how to rate or review this product.