Wednesday, May 29, 2013

My take on: The Butternut Tree

Children have the gift of youth, innocence, and naivete. They see the world a lot differently than adults. For some, the world will be OK if people just learn to love one another. For some, the world will be OK if they can just keep their family together. For some, playing all day with their friends is their whole world. For some, you learn to appreciate the important things in life.

Growing up poor in Avon, Ohio in the 1940s, author Maureen Ann Richards Kostalnick learned to value her family. Her book, The Butternut Tree, is a semi-fictional take on her childhood. I don't know what was fact and what was fiction, but it felt very true to life.

A lot of the people in town looked down on Maureen's family. She was too young to realize that the town's contempt for her family had nothing to do with their lack of wealth. Her mother was the reason for their scorn. Maureen's mother was the victim of a sexual assault, but somehow that's her fault. If she had done a better job of protecting herself, then everyone wouldn't have to hate her or look down upon her. Such backward thinking. She's in the wrong for not being a better woman. She's in the wrong because her husband is an alcoholic. She's in the wrong because her husband beats her. She's in the wrong because her husband rarely stays in town to support his family. She's in the wrong because her daughter Maureen has a potty mouth. Maureen's mother didn't always have the emotional fortitude to raise her children, but you know there is love there.

Growing up, Maureen always knew there was something off about her mother, but she just didn't know what. She wouldn't learn the truth until her mother was on her deathbed. I got the impression that Maureen wanted to do anything and everything to make her mother feel better. In her mind, all her mother needs is love and a big hug to make her feel better. That seemed like such a genuine reaction. As a child, you think you can conquer the world. Maureen seemed like a sassy, no-nonsense child. She wasn't afraid to stand up to bullies or to call them out to their parents. She wasn't afraid to say a few choice words to adults, and I had to laugh at everyone of those moments.

I loved most of this book. I say "most" because I had some problems with the conclusion. Part of the prologue is about Maureen's mother and takes place in 1928, and the other part takes place in 1986. Chapters 1-8 span from 1945 until 1955. I have no problem with any of this. What I do have a problem is Chapters nine and 10, which takes place in 1986. To jump from 1955 to 1986 with only minimal information about the time in between, didn't add up for me. We get a summary of Maureen's life in that 31-year jump in time. I don't think that's enough. This book is less than 250 pages, and I felt a little cheated. I wanted to know more. How did her mother evolve as a person in those 31 years? How did Maureen grow into the woman that she is? I don't think she had to detail everything that happened in those 31 years. I do think that this book would have benefited from an additional 100 pages. Overall, I think the book was pretty good but the ending was just too abrupt for my taste.

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book from Meryl L. Moss Media Relations, Inc. in exchange for an honest review

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