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The Sweet Gum Tree, by Katherine Allred

The Sweet Gum Tree


Sweet tea, corn bread, and soup beans—everyday fare for eight-year-old Alix French, the precocious darling of a respected southern family. But nothing was ordinary about the day she met ten-year-old Nick Anderson, a boy from the wrong side of town. Armed with only a tin of bee balm and steely determination, Alix treats the raw evidence of a recent beating that mars his back, an act that changes both of their lives forever.

Through childhood disasters and teenage woes they cling together as friendship turns to love. The future looks rosy until the fateful night when Frank Anderson, Nick’s abusive father, is shot to death in his filthy trailer.

Suddenly, Nick is gone—leaving Alix alone, confused and pregnant. For the next fifteen years she wrestles with the pain of Nick’s abandonment, a bad marriage, her family and friends. But finally, she’s starting to get her life back together. Her divorce is almost final, her business is booming, and she’s content if not happy—until the day she looks up and sees Nick standing across the counter. He’s back…and he’s not alone.

Once again Alix is plunged into turmoil and pain as Nick tries to win her love, something she resists with all her strength. Only one thing might break the protective wall she’s built around her emotions—the truth about Frank Anderson’s death. But when that truth comes out and those walls crumble, neither Alix nor Nick is prepared for the emotional explosion that could destroy as well as heal.


“There’s a part of everyone that needs to be taken care of. Denying it exists doesn’t change the truth, it only makes you very lonely.”

I expected more from this book when I started it. It was on my recommendation list for quite some time but something in the description just kept me from giving it a go. Then I read a review of it on a blog and said okay, I’ll give it a try.

Don’t get me wrong. I liked it. I read it quickly and I was curious to see how it was going to end but something that took all the fun out of it was that the author kept telling us what was going to happen next at the end of almost every chapter. I mean, seriously, way to kill the suspense! So every time you start a chapter, you already kind of know what is going to happen and since it’s usually something bad, well that sucks for the reader because you know shit is gonna hit the fan. That was the thing that annoyed me while reading.

“Lies and half-truths hurt not only the liar, but the people they love most.”

But besides from that, I really liked the book. I don’t know what it is with family secrets in books but it always makes it feel very realistic. And this one is full of it. One thing after another and almost every member of every family in this book has a secret. I don’t know if it’s a coincidence, but every time I read a book with family secrets, it takes place in the South and it is mixed with the notion that people have to save faces and represent the perfect little family. So the more the family looks perfect, the more twisted the secrets are. But that’s what makes this story interesting.

“God, I can’t lose you again.” His whisper was harsh, filled with pain. “Not now, when I’ve waited so long to hold you. I think it would kill me. But I’m so damn scared you’ll hate me when you find out the truth.”

I liked the characters too. Pretty much all of them and on different levels, but there was not one character I didn’t like even a little. There was a moment or two when I really wanted to slap them upside the head of course. But all in all they were decent.

“I’d read enough to know that one of the symptoms of grief was a deep anger at the loved one who’d died, anger that impaired your judgement, made you want to scream and curse because they’d left you. But Nick hadn’t died, and I didn’t realize that I was suffering the symptoms of grief.”

The story is told from Alix’s POV and we follow her from her childhood throughout her life. And at first, the story is about her friendship with Nick. Alix and Nick were two different but equally interesting characters. They come from different sides of town and live in a different world from each other, but somehow, they still become very close and faithful friends. They both go through a lot but at different moments of their lives. The synopsis hints at some of the stuff that happen to them, but reading it was…heavy. That’s when you realize how strong Alix is.

“You can’t turn love on and off like a light switch, no matter how hard you try. All you can do is wall it off, one brick at a time, until you’ve created an impenetrable fortress around your emotions. And once that fortress is built, you camouflage it so well that even you can’t see it anymore.”

I liked that her character evolved as she grew up and as life happens to her. As a child she is great. She cute and funny and ballsy and always up to no good. You fall in love with her instantly. And as she grows up, and faces so much trauma, she turns out to e very strong but she also hardens herself. This was hard for me to read because it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes quite some time for things to fall in place for Alix and the watching her go through so much grief and heartache was very hard.

“The opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference. And you couldn’t be indifferent to him if your life depended on it.”

Some will think that she becomes less likable as the book goes but I thought it made sense. She has been scared by life and found a way to protect herself somehow. And I loved that Nick was so patient, kind and understanding with her. I thought he stayed the same throughout the book but I don’t mean that in a bad way. He, too, went through a lot as a child and his teenage years and you’d think it might have hardened him, but turns out, it was quite the opposite, and I liked that. He makes mistakes and the path to forgiveness isn’t an easy one for him, but Nick will charm you. I won’t say more about Nick and Alix because I don’t want to spoil the book for the readers.

“I promise you this. I’ll love you until the day I die even if I have to live without you. And if it’s fifty years from now, you come home, Nick Anderson. Do you hear me? I’ll be waiting on you.”

This book is also very heartbreaking. There are things that happen to the characters that I wouldn’t wish for anybody to go through. But again, I think that’s also part of why the story felt real.

“Life isn’t kind, and we rarely get what we want out of it. We do the best we can, and we keep putting one foot in front of the other.”

So what I would say to those who haven’t yet read the book and who are still hesitating is, give it a try. Because even if the story ends up not being what you expected at the beginning, it’s a great story about life, family, friendship, heartache, loss and love.

“Do you want to know the real reason I came back, Alix?” It was because of you. You’re my roots. Wherever you are would be home to me.”


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