Carol is missing out on what all of her friends are doing this summer, because she has to head out with her family to the New Mexico desert and move her grandfather off of his farm and into a home for people with dementia. Carol has never really met her Grandpa Serge and tries to avoid him at first because he is so prickly and all he will talk about is a wild story about bees returning to the desert. As the summer goes ever so slowly by, Carol connects with Serge and discovers his ability to weave a great story. It’s a story that is about her grandparents, about a magical tree that granted everlasting life and about bees too. Carol begins to understand her grandfather’s connection to the dried out land and the small home just as the summer ends and they are forced to leave it behind but the story has not reached its end yet.
This magical realism book is enticingly radiant. It shimmers with desert heat, itches with dust and dirt, aches with the loss of loved ones, and dances with the voice of a great storyteller. The writing is lush and lovely with distinct tone differences between Grandpa Serge’s stories and the prose of the novel. Even that prose though is written with such poetry:
I want to tell her how Serge’s eyes glow, how they are cat’s eyes, wide as a newborn’s, ringed like an ancient tree trunk.
A large theme of the novel is connection to one’s heritage and roots. In this book about a magical tree, those roots have many meanings. Carol is urged to connect more with her Hispanic heritage and also to the land itself. She does over the course of the novel in a believable and organic way that really works well. This book is about those slow changes, about becoming yourself and honoring who you are and where you come from.
Beautiful and haunting, this novel deserves a wide audience and plenty of buzz. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC received from Candlewick Press.