Title: The Beach Trees
Author: Karen White
Release Date: May 3, 2011
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Julie Holt has never been able to get past her sister’s disappearance. After all, she was supposed to be watching Chelsea, and she failed. As the years have passed, she has lost contact with her parents, unable to put down roots or commit to anything. In New York City, Julie meets another young woman named Monica who is interested in the artwork of Abe Holt, Julie’s grandfather. Julie finds a kindred spirit in Monica, and they become as close as sisters. But when Monica becomes sick and eventually passes, Julie is left with Monica’s shattered memories, as well as her son Beau. Unsure of what to do, Julie heads down to Biloxi, Mississippi to meet Monica’s family and to understand why she chose to abandon them.
Karen White writes absolutely mesmerizing Southern fiction that I can’t seem to get enough of. I’ve read almost all her books, and have loved every single one (reviews of The House on Tradd Street, The Girl on Legare Street, Falling Home, On Folly Beach, The Lost Hours, and The Memory of Water). Therefore, when I discovered she had a new book coming out, I had no doubts that I would read it as quickly as possible, and that I would thoroughly enjoy it.
Julie is a carefully crafted and complex character, and an endearing person to play a leading role in White’s novel. She is very broken and unsure of herself when the novel starts. She doesn’t allow herself to care for anything or anyone, and doesn’t want to commit to a place because she is certain it will be taken from her. She doesn’t know how to trust. It’s clear that losing Monica was extremely difficult for her, but Julie also realizes that her old methods of protecting herself will no longer work. She has Beau to worry about now, and his welfare is more important than her insecurities.
The Gulf Coast of Mississippi plays a huge role in The Beach Trees. The setting is its own character, beautiful, yet haunted by the ghosts of the hurricanes Katrina and Camille, as well as the Gulf oil spill. White takes the reader into this region, so beaten down yet full of hope, and really shows the reader its spirit. At the beginning, Julie is so skeptical of why anyone would want to rebuild in a place that has been so battered. It’s so rewarding to see her begin to understand what a place can mean to a person, especially since she is so incredibly lost.
Julie also explores Monica’s family history and begins to adopt it as her own. Her interest is more than morbid curiosity - she has to understand why Monica left her family, refusing to speak to them or even let them know she was alive for over a decade. She has to know what kind of people they are for Beau’s sake; after all, they are his family as well. This mystery was engrossing, and though Trey could be frustrating at times, each character was well-written and engaging.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Beach Trees and am sad it’s over. Karen White has such an amazing talent for writing a beautiful story with sympathetic characters that you can’t help but fall in love with. This was a wonderful story, and I’m so glad I had the chance to read it - I’m excited to see what she does next.