Title: The Beach Trees
Author: Karen White
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Publisher: NAL Accent
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Source: Print copy from my personal library
First line: Death and loss, they plague you.
When Julie Holt’s best friend Monica dies of congestive heart failure, Julie finds herself the appointed guardian of Monica’s young son, Beau, as well as the owner of a beach house in Biloxi. Heading for the Gulf Coast, Julie and Beau end up in New Orleans, staying with Monica’s grandmother, Aimee, and brother, Trey. The family has never understood why Monica left New Orleans, never to return, and refused to stay in touch. As Julie tries to figure out what’s best for Beau – and her own future – she becomes embroiled in a decades old mystery, one whose answer may hold the key to Monica’s abandonment of her family, as well as a way for Julie to find healing for her own wounds.
The Beach Trees reminded me of the first Karen White book I ever read, On Folly Beach. Both books have two storylines, one contemporary, one historical, and in both books, I was equally invested in both storylines. As much as I loved On Folly Beach, I think this one is an even stronger book.
The Beach Trees alternates between Julie’s contemporary storyline, and Aimee’s story set in the 1950s. I loved Aimee’s character, and the love triangle that is central to it – as well as the mystery of what happened to her beautiful and tortured mother-in-law.
Julie, meanwhile, is attempting to be a good guardian to Beau, and working with Monica’s brother, Trey, to rebuild River Song, the beach house they now co-own. The house was destroyed during Hurricane Katrina, and Julie struggles to understand the need people living in the Gulf have to rebuild in an area that seems like a lost cause. In many of her books, Karen White writes lovingly of the South, and in The Beach Trees, she has written a moving tribute to the strength of spirit of the people who choose not to let disasters like Katrina and the Gulf Oil Spill rob them of their homes.
If you’re interested, as I was, in learning more about the beach trees that have been sculpted in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, click over to the Biloxi home page for a slide show of the trees and info on the sculptors.