The Beach Trees by Karen White

Karen White always crafts novels that are full of engaging characters and intricate story lines, and The Beach Trees is no exception.  Shifting from the present to the past and between two first person accounts, the novel tells the tale of rebirth and rebuilding.  Set in the South — New Orleans and Biloxi — Julie Holt and Aimee Guidry’s stories are told in tandem and are more entwined than readers first think as a mystery is solved.

From the disappearance of Monica, Aimee’s granddaughter, to the disappearance of Caroline Guidry many years before, White crafts a unique story of family, love, and forgiveness.  Both stories are riveting and filled with mystery, which readers will have to sweep aside the sand to uncover.

“When we got closer to the memorial I could see a curved cement wall with a mosaic wave in the center of it rolling from one end to the other.  At the far end sat a taller wall of black granite, columns of names marching in block letters under the word KATRINA and the date August 29, 2005.  A glass case filled with small objects protruded from the marble wall, its base filled with empty oyster shells.

‘What is this,’ I asked, leaning forward to study the sun-bleached artifacts:  a broken china plate, a ceramic angel, a trophy, a police badge, an American flag folded neatly as if unaware of its position over a pile of rubble.

‘That’s debris found after the hurricane.  . . . ‘” (page 150-1)

New Orleans was plunged into the depths of the ocean by Katrina’s storm surge, and like the city these two families — the Holts and the Guidrys — are unmoored, drifting toward one another in the search for more than just shelter, but for a home and connections.  Aimee’s story unfolds piece-by-piece as she tells it to Julie, who decides to stay in the city and Biloxi to fulfill the dying wish of her friend.  In addition to the haunting images of Katrina’s devastation, White incorporates the more recent toxicity brought on by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, which coated numerous miles of coast and created yet another disheartening chapter in the city’s history.  However, like its people, the city continues to rise from the ashes much stronger than before.

The Beach Trees brings to life not only the main characters in the novel, but the southern setting, ensuring that its scars and healing are intertwined with that of White’s characters.  She has created a story of rebirth and perseverance.  Through alternating points of view, White draws connections between Aimee and Julie using emotion and setting in a way that too few authors can accomplish.  With deft hand, she has created an emotionally charged narrative that takes on a life of its own.

About the Author:

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.  Visit the author at her website, and become a fan on Facebook.

Also check out my reviews of The House on Tradd Street, The Girl on Legare Street, and On Folly Beach.

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