January 2, 2015

The Sweet Gum Tree by Katherine Allred

The Sweet Gum Tree by Katherine Allred
Source: bought Kindle copy
Publisher: Ellora's Cave
Publication Date: May 12, 2005
Age Genre: adult (not graphic)
Sweet tea, corn bread, and soup beans—everyday fare for eight-year-old Alix French, the precocious darling of a respected southern family. But nothing was ordinary about the day she met ten-year-old Nick Anderson, a boy from the wrong side of town. Armed with only a tin of bee balm and steely determination, Alix treats the raw evidence of a recent beating that mars his back, an act that changes both of their lives forever.
Through childhood disasters and teenage woes they cling together as friendship turns to love. The future looks rosy until the fateful night when Frank Anderson, Nick's abusive father, is shot to death in his filthy trailer.
Suddenly, Nick is gone—leaving Alix alone, confused and pregnant. For the next fifteen years she wrestles with the pain of Nick's abandonment, a bad marriage, her family and friends. But finally, she's starting to get her life back together. Her divorce is almost final, her business is booming, and she's content if not happy -- until the day she looks up and sees Nick standing across the counter. He's back…and he's not alone.
Once again Alix is plunged into turmoil and pain as Nick tries to win her love, something she resists with all her strength. Only one thing might break the protective wall she's built around her emotions—the truth about Frank Anderson's death. But when that truth comes out and those walls crumble, neither Alix nor Nick is prepared for the emotional explosion that could destroy as well as heal.
You are my roots. Wherever you are would be home to me.
I'm not sure where you start this review. Maybe I should kick it off with saying how shallow I am for putting this book off for so long just because I kind of hate the title and cover, even though I knew how recommended it came.
I know how wrong I was now. Because The Sweet Gum Tree... The Sweet Gum Tree is something else.

The story spans approximately 26 years, telling the epic love story of Nick and Alix through Alix's eyes. She's the one telling the story, from her position in the present, narrating it with an honest and raw voice, sprinkling everything with premonitions, warnings and second thoughts of what's to come.

That added a lot to it, in my opinion. It kept tensions high, kept the suspense in a completely opposite way than normally - you wondered not what's going to come (because you know from the get-go it was coming, and you know it was bad), but how it's going to go down. And why.
"No one should have to go through life with only half a heart," he whispered.
The Sweet Gum Tree is an emotional roller-coaster. You jump from laughter and joy to tears and sadness. You are forced to watch two people who are made for each other, who have always loved one another, break apart. Break down. And sometimes, the book completely blindsides you.
The biggest slap to the face made me cry. There was no warning, no preparations. One minute everything is fine, and the next... it's not. Alix didn't prepare us for that one--maybe she couldn't, maybe it was too hard to even hint at--and I was filled with grief. I didn't expect that, but I loved that it was told this way.
You can't turn love on and off like a light switch, no matter how hard you try. All you can do is wall it off, one brick at a time, until you've created an impenetrable fortress around your emotions. And once that fortress is built, you camouflage it so well that even you can't see it anymore. 
I felt like this book didn't try to make me an emotional mess. If that happened, it was just a byproduct. This book told a story that felt completely real and honest.

Maybe it was the characters - Alix, Nick, her mom, the Judge, her aunts, her best friend, Hugh... they all felt like real people. They spoke like real people, they acted like real people, and they had the chemistry of real people - for better or worse. I laughed and I cried with them, rooted and admonished them. I loved them all.

I highly recommend this love story, for anyone who loves a good romance. For anyone who's tired of insta loves and baseless loves. For anyone who wants a book that will shake his emotions, but without having to feel like that's all the book does.
"She died a long time ago and she's never coming back. That's the way I want it. She was a naive child who thought love could solve anything, who believed in happily-ever-after endings, and that justice and honor always win out. She believed in the integrity of others and never questioned their motives. She didn't stand a chance and she's better off dead."

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