In Mackall’s first-person coming-of-age narrative, an aspiring young writer wrestles with the difference between facts and many-layered truths, learning the role of compassion in deciding which secrets need to be shared and which are not hers to tell.
Tree Taylor has two goals during the summer after eighth grade: write an article that will win her the freshman spot on her high school’s newspaper and taste her first kiss. When she witnesses her neighbor holding a rifle, her husband shot, Tree thinks she has her story. As she investigates, she uncovers a long history not only of domestic abuse, but also of coverups—even by her pillar-of-the-community father, the local doctor. Tree struggles as she discovers webs of secrets in her family and community. Where is the truth? Tree is an appealing, naïve 13 (“Somebody swore—the ‘d’ word for the structure that keeps water back”); indeed, the whole book has an old-fashioned feel, harking back to simpler times when teenagers gladly went to the drive-in with their families. Small-town Missouri in 1963 is nicely captured in many references to current events, music and movies. Quotations from famous authors are scattered throughout, reflecting Tree’s focus on writing. Tree’s godlike father is too reminiscent of Atticus Finch to altogether succeed, though; his moralizing and invoking God become sermonic.
A simple story with surprising depth in its examination of truth and compassion. (Historical fiction. 11-14)