The Beach Trees by Karen White
Published by NAL Trade, an imprint of Penguin
Review copy provided by the publicist
When Julie Holt was twelve years old, her younger sister disappeared, changing Julie as a person irrevocably. As a young woman, Julie meets a struggling artist named Monica, and the two women form an immediate and super close friendship. When Monica tragically dies from heart failure, she leaves Julie in charge of her five-year-old son Beau, with instructions for Julie to take Beau to her family’s beach house in Biloxi, a home that has been ravaged by Hurricane Katrina and needs expensive repairs. In spending time with Monica’s family, who she ran away from years ago, Julie gets a better understanding of her friend and begins to heal from her own wounds as well.
The Beach Trees is exactly the type of novel I’ve come to expect from Karen White. The characters are realistic, their stories will break your heart, but in the end things are much better than when the book began. I love her novels because they feel so real, but they are also feel-good at the same time. The Beach Trees was exactly that and I enjoyed it from start to finish.
The book really has two storylines. The first is Julie’s story, as she’s getting to know Monica’s family, trying to decide whether to rebuild the family home in Biloxi, and taking care of Beau. The second is of Monica’s great-grandmother, Aimee, and it’s a story that is a huge foundation of Monica’s life. This history is key to Julie getting to a deeper understanding of her friend Monica’s life. I personally loved both, and couldn’t pick a favorite if I was asked.
As always, Karen White’s characters are drawn exceptionally well, and I related to them immediately, Julie in particular. It seemed such a cruel dose of fate that she was handed – first her sister disappeared, and then the woman who she came to think of as a sister died in such a tragic way – but she took the circumstances she was given and did the best she could with them. She was responsible for a five-year-old, after all, and even though she was grieving for her friend, she managed to be there for Beau in every possible way. She really was the kind of character I am inspired by – I’m not sure I could be as strong as she was under the same circumstances. Not only that, but Julie as a character was genuine. I believed her and I wanted to keep reading more about her, to get to know her even better as the book went on.
Another thing that Karen White always manages to pull off, and was no different in The Beach Trees, is a truly complete sense of place. As I was reading the book, I could smell the salty ocean air and hear the seagulls chirping in the background. I formed a complete picture in my mind of the beach house that needed extensive repairs, and of the scenery surrounding it. She also managed to capture the emotions of a post-Katrina area exceedingly well, as I could feel how proud the residents of the area were of their city, how attached they were to its history, and how strongly they felt that a hurricane would absolutely not cause them to leave their home. They would continue to rebuild, and create new roots, in this place that they loved so much. And I completely felt that sentiment through the pages of this novel.
I have come to expect greatness from Karen White and The Beach Trees did not disappoint. Honestly I am at the point now with her novels where I feel like a broken record because they are all so fabulous, and I would recommend just about anything she writes, so just add The Beach Trees to that list. Highly recommended.