The Suffering Tree
By Elle Cosimano
Advanced Review Copy
Expected Publication: June 13th, 2017
Plot at a Glance:
Tori Burns and her family find themselves living in small-town USA after suddenly and unexpectedly inheriting a house under mysterious circumstances. Moving to Chaptico, Maryland puts Tori and her family at odds with most of the tightly knit town and sparks a rivalry between Tori and Jesse Slaughter, as its his family’s land the Burns have “stolen.” The feud is put on the backburner one incredible night when Tori witnesses a handsome young man claw his way out of a grave beneath the oak tree in her backyard. Compelled by reasons unknown to her to protect him, Tori keeps his existence quiet but word travels quickly in a small town and some will stop at nothing to keep their oldest family secrets dead and buried.
Trigger Warning, as the topic of self-harm is discussed at length in this review
This book is so hard to review! I was going to try and be optimistic and highlight the things I did like about it, but every time I try and start, alarm bells start going off in my mind because there are much more pressing things to talk about first. Like the elephant in the room.
This novel should come with a trigger warning. There is absolutely no indication in any plot summary I’ve seen that there is a gigantic and repeating theme involving self-harm in this story. Given that this is a YA genre novel, I really wasn’t expecting it and I certainly wasn’t expecting it to happen over and over again during the story. That’s not to say that I don’t think the topic of self-harm should be off limits. I believe stories of all types deserve to be told but you absolutely have to consider your audience.
Because this particular story was written for teenagers, it’s so important to also include thematically how destructive and harmful that behavior is. Furthermore, there needs to be emotional pay off in the form of an ending to that behavior. When you include self-harm in a book for teenagers, it’s imperative to show them that things get better and you can move on from it.
Unfortunately, Cosimano chooses to use Tori’s self-harm as a method to bring Nathaniel back from the dead at the start of the novel. I worry that because it’s her blood that brings this sexy, colonial-era teenaged boy into Tori’s life, Cosamino inadvertently ties a very harmful behavior to a positive reward.
In real life, sexy dead guys aren’t going to spring up from the ground and solve all your problems for you when you hurt yourself.
No one ever calls Tori out on the behavior. Everyone looks the other way, or changes the subject. What this novel desperately needed was just one character to stop her and show her how much they cared. To help her see how harmful the behavior was. It’s never done here and without that sort of emotional payoff including self-harm at all feels like it was ONLY done to bring Nathaniel back from the dead in a novel that impressionable teenagers will read. That is wrong, and I can’t support it or in good conscious recommend it to anyone else to read.
I think that’s enough of that, so I’ll move on to other issues:
This is a personal pet peeve of mine. You might love it, but I dislike when POV shifts between chapters. There are 3 separate POVs used in this book. Third person past tense; First person past tense; and first person present tense. Authors take note, shifting POV this many times makes the story a pain to read. It slows down the action dramatically every time, because the reader has to reorient themselves to the new view.
Lack of a compelling antagonist:
Because the story unfolds like a mystery, I was compelled to keep reading, hoping that the antagonist would show themselves from time to time but it never really happens. We’re supposed to buy the Slaughter family as antagonists, but because Tori inherits a house on their land, I never really felt like they were terrible people. In fact, I kind of agreed with them and wanted to see them succeed because the plot surrounding Tori moving onto their property is pretty ridiculous, not going to lie.
Save for Tori and Nathaniel, the characters are really shallow. For example, Tori has 2 best friends Magda and Drew. We never learn anything about them except that Magda’s dad is a lawyer, and that Drew is gay. Plus, no character’s physical appearances save for Nathaniel and Tori’s are ever really described. They’re all just faceless shapes in a cast of forgettable characters.
All in all, I was really disappointed by this. I saw glimmers of greatness in it, but the final product has a lot of problems.
🌟🌟☆☆☆ = 2 stars
Thank you to Disney-Hyperion and Netgalley for an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review!