Summary: Echo O'Connell knows that the summer holds its secrets. They are whispered in the rustling trees, in the lush scent of the lilacs, in the flurry of the mayflies batting against the screen door, and in the restless spirits that seem to clamor in the scant breezes on hot evenings. It is in summer that she returns home to Canandaigua, to confront these spirits, both living and not, and to share a secret with her first love, Grant Shongo—a secret that will forever change the lives of many people in the town and put to rest the mysterious disappearance of a little boy more than a decade earlier.
Grant, a descendant of the Seneca Indians who call this place "The Chosen Spot," has also come back to face his past. After a broken marriage, he has moved into his childhood home, a lake house that has withstood happiness and tragedy. He knows the spirits of the past must be dealt with—that of the little boy who disappeared all those years ago; the boy's sister, who never overcame the loss; and the love Grant still has for Echo. But before the healing must come the forgiveness. . . .-- Avon
When I was in New York for BEA back in May, I had the pleasure of attending a panel of authors at the Time Warner Borders store. One book that really appealed to me was THE LANGUAGE OF TREES by Ilie Ruby. When Ms. Ruby read a small part of her novel to the audience, I was immediately impressed with her beautiful prose.
And then once THE LANGUAGE OF THE TREES was on my radar, I began to see tons of fantastic reviews for not only the novel, but almost Ms. Ruby's writing. Despite my appreciation of her prose (and reading!) and all of the praise, I admit that I was a little concerned that I wouldn't like this novel because of the Indian folklore angle. I admit that I'm not always a fan of books that include ancient myths. I always think that an author faces a challenge when including a folklore storyline, and I find that it's very hard to pull it off.
Well, I can happily say that I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. In fact, it was very, very good! I really don't know where to start my raving because there are so many positive things to say about Ms. Ruby's debut novel. It really did have a little bit of everything -- terrific characters, beautiful prose, romance, suspense, and mystery.
The cast of characters in this novel are just so interesting from the main characters down to the minor ones. I'm sure it's a testament to Ms. Ruby's writing skills, but I felt as if all of them were so well developed. Of course, I really liked Grant and Echo and found that they were portrayed as so complex, yet so real. And I couldn't help but love some of the older characters as well. I thought Echo's adoptive father and Clarisse, the woman who had always loved him, were such strong characters and demonstrated so much wisdom.
In addition, I thought the setting and history of the area played a huge role in this novel. The small community that Ms. Ruby created was crystal clear to me. I could not only picture what it looked like, but I could also "feel" what it would have been like to live there. I especially enjoyed how Ms. Ruby brought to life the lake and the trees. I thought her use of trees and water and what they represented symbolically was just so well done. And despite my early concerns, I loved how she wove the Indian folklore of the area (and even a little bit of supernatural) into the story!
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the mystery angle of this novel. One of the major parts of this novel was the mystery surrounding the disappearance of a young mother Melanie. I thought Ms. Ruby did a remarkable job with the part of the book and I loved how the story slowly unraveled. I was deeply touched by the pain that Melanie's family felt as a result of her disappearance because it brought up so many questions to them about the state of her mental and physical health. However, I was also heartbroken because I could see just how much damaged Melanie's family was over the course of many years.
One of the highlights of this novel was Ms. Ruby's writing! She is just a beautiful writer and a masterful storyteller. Her descriptions were extremely vivid, and while I sometimes am bothered by this type of writing, I found it perfect for this story. As I read THE LANGUAGE OF THE TREES, I found that many parts of this story read like poetry. I wasn't surprised to learn that Ms. Ruby is also a painter because I think she just oozes with artistic talent!
I highly recommend THE LANGUAGE OF THE TREES for book clubs. I think it's not only a wonderful story, but also one that provides lots of opportunity for discussion. There is a reading guide included in the A+ section in the back of my book; however, I wasn't able to find an on-line link at this time. Some of the topics that you might want to explore include the concepts of "orphaned" vs. "rooted-ness," first love, family dynamics, loss, grief, wishes, healing, spirituality, and my favorite second chances. Trust me -- this book is perfect for groups for enjoy discussing literary fiction!
Since THE LANGUAGE OF TREES is an Avon imprint, it also included an A+ Author Insights, Extras, & More section in the back. I just love these little bonus pages because they do give me so much insight into the novel. In addition to the readers guide, there is also a wonderful essay written by Ms. Ruby about how the book evolved as well as a Q&A with her.
I highly recommend THE LANGUAGE OF TREES! If you've read this book, I'd love to hear what you think!
Thanks to Kelley & Hall Book Publicity for sending me a copy of this book.