The Crying Tree – Naseem Rakha

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 Richard and Judy Winter Reads 2010

The Crying Tree is all about forgiveness. The book follows an American family as they come to terms with the murder of their teenage son. The murderer, Daniel Robbins, is on death row and the family exhibit a range of different reactions to his imminent execution. Set over several decades, we see the family before and after their son’s murder and the difficult spectrum of emotions they go through in trying to continue life without him.

I loved the first half of the book – it was fast paced and totally gripping. There were several touching sections and I did find myself genuinely sad about Shep’s death.

Shep was rolling a ball back and forth between his legs. He was crying because up beyond the trees the moon was all broken. He was tucked beside her as she read and laughing as she sang. He was riding his bike, and going to his first day of school, and playing the piano and the horn. Shep was smiling and laughing. Shep was her boy, he was just her little boy….

Unfortunately the book became increasingly sentimental and the theme of forgiveness became overbearing. By the half way point I was bored.

The characters were stereotypical and as I learned more about them I became increasingly annoyed by them. The twist in the end was the final straw. I won’t give anything away, but it ruined the entire book for me. The twist was unnecessary and took away from the message that the book was trying to deliver.

Recommended to those who like light, sentimental reads. 

Literary fiction lovers seem to have the biggest problem with this book:

Rakha is a bit heavyhanded with the message at times…. The Book Lady’s Blog

Naseem Rakha writes beautifully and with such depth of emotion at times I felt the suffocation that such pain and grief brings. The Eclectic Reader

The writing was so vivid that I felt as though this family was going through a real trauma, that this novel was in fact a true story. Book Addiction

I couldn’t quite bring myself to care about the people in this book because they felt less like people and more like representatives of various points of view. Shelf Love

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  1. Beth F says:

    Hummmm. Perhaps not exactly right for me.

    1. Jackie says:

      Beth, Perhaps not :-)

  2. Teresa says:

    Ugh, yes. This is a book I’ve liked less and less as I’ve reflected on it. It was readable enough and had some nice bits of writing, but the stereotyped characters, the preachiness, and that twist made it sort of a mess. The twist in particular just infuriated me. It just completely undercut the forgiveness theme and introduced a whole other thing to be preachy about. I agree with Rakha about the issues involved, but I still didn’t like the manipulativeness and preachiness of the book.

    1. Jackie says:

      Teresa, Preachiness! That is exactly the word I was looking for. It felt as though the whole book was just one big agenda to make you hate capital punishment, but it didn’t even suceed in that mission – the twist ruined that for me.

      You are right – this book does get more annoying the more you think about it – perhaps that is a sign it at least got under our skin – better to create hate than boredom?

  3. Lucy says:

    This sounds like the sort of book I would enjoy. Although your review would probably make me approach it with some trepidation. Sometimes I prefer a review that’s not all good- it stops me expecting too much.

    1. Jackie says:

      Lucy, I often get a much clearer idea about what a book is like from a negative review and hence a better feeling of whether or not I’d enjoy it. Books that are described as too complicated and depressing have me running for a pen to write down the title. :-) I hope you enjoy this one.

  4. Bibliophile By the Sea says:

    Ehhh ?? I have this one, but light and sentimental = I’m not so sure it is for me. Thanks for sharing your review Jackie

    1. Jackie says:

      Bibliophile By the Sea, I think you’d enjoy this one much more than me, but not sure it would be one of the best books you’d ever read. I’ll be interested to see your thoughts if you ever do decide to give it a try.

  5. Jessica says:

    Do you think Richard and udy have got it wrong so far this time? The books they have chosen so far seem to be crowd pleasers but quite light (the ones Ive seen anyway, not sure if that applies to all of the books)

    1. Jackie says:

      Jessica, I do think Richard and Judy have got it badly wrong. I have only read three, but none have jumped out as special. I have heard a few wobbly things about some of the others, but I now feel as though I have to read them all – just to check there are no gems lurking in the pile. Once I have discovered this I’ll know not to trust R&Js recommendations any more. A very sad day :-(

  6. Daniel says:

    I guess this is an example of how subjective a readers experience can be. I read this book several months back, and I still can not get the characters or plot out of my mind. I am not one for soft or sentimental books, and while this book did genuinely get to me, it was not because of some phony string pulling. Instead, I felt fully drawn into the lives of Rahka’s characters. I found their pain to be very, very real. This may be because I lost my own brother to crime. It was when I was quite young, but I remember how it changed my family. Perhaps that is why I thought the emotions in this book were almost muted. I know how dramatic life really gets when you have murder enter into it. I also have to say that I found the “twist” to be very powerful. Instead of this story being simply about forgiveness – which seems to be a very sappy topic in itself – The Crying Tree was about how damn complex life gets, and how fear, anger, shame and secrets can destroy lives and families in unexpected and horrible ways. I loved this book.

    1. Jackie says:

      Daniel, I’m so sorry that you have personal experience of the events of this book – I can only imagine how much more powerful that would make the emotions for you.

      I can’t deny that this book wasn’t emotional or well written, because it was. I can see why others would love this book, but it didn’t have the complexity of depth of character that I look for.

      I take your point about the twist adding complexity to the story, but


      I thought that the twist meant there was no longer any need for the forgiveness that the book had been ranting about – it took away the main message of the book.

      I guess we just have a different taste in books, but thank you for explaining why you love this book. Hopefully it will allow others to decide for themselves whether or not this one is for them.

  7. Kathleen says:

    Readers of my blog know that I don’t go for light and sentimental so this one probably wouldn’t be for me.

  8. Jenners says:

    It sounded promising so I’m sorry to hear it didn’t quite make the mark.

    1. Jackie says:

      Hopefully I’ll have better luck with the next book :-)

  9. Amy says:

    Hmm… the cover would definitely intrigue me so I’m glad your review has warned me away. Stereotypical characters are not fun.

    1. Jackie says:

      Amy, The cover is another good topic of conversation – not sure why it has anything to do with the contents of the book – there is no little girl in the book!!

  10. Charlie says:

    I don’t mind it when characters are used as points of view, depending on the overall style of a book but considering how you described the first half of this one it sounds a bit out of place (even if the latter half was more in tune to the author’s idea). I feel a bit frustrated just reading about it!

    1. Jackie says:

      Charlie, I think the problem is that characters should be more complex so you shouldn’t be able to identify their single issue view point. Such a shame as it had a promising start :-(

  11. Thank you for confirming I was right not to add this to my wishlist!

    1. Jackie says:

      Teresa, Glad to be of help :-)

  12. Shannon says:

    Hi Jackie,

    I’m not sure if you do awards posts, but I recently received some blogger awards and I wanted to pass the love on to you. I’m such a big fan of your blog, and it’s an inspiration to me and my reading (I started reading the Booker list because of you!)
    Here’s Your Award if you want to participate.

    As well, I’ve started posting my reviews for the Giller Prize if you’re looking for some Canadian fiction.

    1. Jackie says:

      Shannon, Thank you so much for the award and your lovely comments.

      Don’t worry – I am following your blog and keeping an eye on all that Canadian literature. It is hard to comment when I haven’t read the books, but I’ll try to let you know I’m there in future :-)


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