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Reviewed by Jack Magnus for Readers' Favorite
The Trees Outside: Family Tree, the Novel is a collection of poetry with an essay and an excerpt from author Andrea Carr’s debut novel, Family Tree, the Novel. The author explains in her introduction that The Trees Outside is not a sequel to Family Tree, but rather it contains material that was either removed from the final version of that book as well as material that allows the reader to more deeply understand the feelings and emotions experienced by Angel, the novel’s lead character. Carr challenges the reader in her Foreword to disregard any preconceived expectations in beginning the journey implicit in The Trees Outside, and she asks that they recognize that many of her own truths are those of Angel.
Carr’s poetry is free verse in form, but each piece contains its own internal structure and a prevailing theme of contrasts: contrasts between past and present, outside and inside, alive and dead. As one might expect, trees play a major part in the imagery and emotive responses of these pieces. In the title poem, the narrator gazes through her window and tries to imagine what being out there felt like for her sister before it happened. She muses that all the answers are out there with the trees, but she cannot conceive of them without her sister being there. In I Can’t Remember, Carr concludes: “I don’t think I could be that brave or as desperate/ To execute such a plan./ My only plan for that old tree/ Was making a swing with a tire on a rope."
I have not read Andrea Carr’s debut novel, Family Tree, the Novel, but I plan to do so after reading The Trees Outside. Carr’s poetry is authentic and from the heart and never contrived. I reveled in the images she shares with her audience, even while acknowledging the profound sadness and disbelief woven throughout these works. Carr’s essay on children and the impact parents can have on their lives is thought-provoking while offering hope for those whose childhoods were not all they could have been. She concludes this collection with an excerpt from Family Tree which is set in the common room of a women’s detention center. The narrator is watching a white woman braiding a black woman’s hair, with other black women lined up and waiting, and I instantly became engrossed and involved in her story. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I opened this book, but what I did find was beautifully written and profound, something to read and think about for a while and then read again...and again. The Trees Outside is most highly recommended.