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BOOK REVIEW: The Mulberry Tree by Allison Rushby

| 18 August 2018 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: The Mulberry Tree by Allison Rushby

Walker Books
July 2018
Paperback, $17.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell

Middle Grade / Mystery / Supernatural

6/10

Do naught wrong by the mulberry tree,
or she’ll take your daughters …
one, two, three.

Ten-year-old Immy and her family run away from their storm cloud of problems to a tiny village in Cambridgeshire, England. When they find an adorable thatched cottage to begin a perfect new life in, the only downside is the ancient, dark and fierce-looking mulberry tree in the back garden. And the legend that comes with it – the villagers say the tree steals away girls living in the cottage on the eve of their eleventh birthday. Of course, Immy thinks this is ridiculous. Then she starts to hear a strange song in her head…

Another noise caught her attention. There, woven through the thumping of her heart. Something else. Something higher, almost floating. Like a song. She knew it from somewhere. Remembered it somehow.
The sound was lost as Immy’s gaze moved up, the sky poisoned by the tree’s branches. The tree smelled strange. Fusty and old, like it was stuffed full of decaying secrets.

 

Immy and her family are going through a lot of changes – when we join them, they’ve just relocated from Australia to England. Immy’s father has been having some emotional troubles as a result of something that happened at work, and the three members of their small family are a little at odds with each other. 

Her father was still here, yet he’d left at the same time. She missed him not just listening, but hearing the answers to the questions he asked her automatically when he picked her up from school. She missed their bike rides. She missed him swimming with her. She even missed their terrible attempts at baking. Yes, he was still here, but she missed him being present, which was something else entirely.

But upon moving into the house with the foreboding, titular mulberry tree in the back yard, learning the history around it, and counting down the days to Immy’s 11th birthday, they find their attention diverted elsewhere, and Immy thinks maybe they’re all going to be okay.

They were met with a view of a large garden, but unlike the welcoming front of the house, no flowers bloomed and no bumblebees buzzed. Everything was dark and drenched in shadow because of what lay to the left – a gigantic tree that loomed over the entire garden and the house itself. Immy’s breath caught in her throat and her heart began to race as her eyes travelled up its thick, gnarled trunk. Halfway up, arm-like branches began to shoot out threateningly, dividing into stout, black fingers which poked and taunted the house cruelly. It was summer, yet the tree displayed no green. Not one leaf. Just inky blackness that blocked out the sky above. It was almost as if the tree was attempting to swallow the cottage whole.

This story explores themes of responsibility, forgiveness, family, and the appreciation of all life. Through the way the townsfolk speak of the tree (and give it a wide berth), and a couple of other events that take place in the book, Immy starts to see her way towards forgiving and understanding the struggles her father is going through, and Immy learns to look beyond an angry or defensive outward appearance to see the person who might be sad or hurting underneath.

Unfortunately there was a lot of telling, some clunky writing, quite a few typos, and errors that seemed to show up with greater frequency as the book neared its conclusion. There were some things that didn’t seem to make entirely logical sense, but seemed to exist to make problems easier to solve, or to make certain elements more significant. , 

The clunkiest of the writing revolved around specifying when Immy’s birthday was, and discussing the logistics of throwing a party.

“Your birthday’s on a Sunday. It will be good timing. We can do something in the garden. It’s a week and a half from today, so there’s still time to send out some invitations.”

“Is it too late to send out invitations? We could make them over the weekend, but you’d have to give most of them out at school on Monday and that would be less than a week until the actual party on the Sunday?”

But for the most part, the issues will likely not bother the target age group so much as they did this thirty-something qualified editor.

In the end, this story had a nice full-circle feeling, and it is worth noting the valuable messages it delivers and the appreciation of life, which will hit home for kids of the target age who are at that point in their lives where they feel a consciousness in all things.

Stephanie O’Connell

Category: Book Reviews, Other Reviews

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