“We’ve learned that great tragedy gives us opportunities for great kindness. It’s like a needed reminder that the human spirit is alive and well despite all evidence to the contrary.” ~
Southern Girl at Heart
I get asked ALL the time how this Northern New England girl fell in love with the South, in particular Charleston. I owe that love to the author Karen White whose Tradd Street Series based in the aforementioned city swept me away at the age of fourteen and made me put the charming historical city at the top of my travel bucket list.
It took me over a decade to visit, but eventually I did, and Charleston lived up to the hype I had created in my head and I realized I had found where my heart belonged. As I walked down the streets, names that Karen has used to name her books, I was captivated by the history, culture, charm, and friendliness of the people. I now understood why Southern fiction had become so big, not just because they were quick beach reads, which they are, but because there were stories that needed to be told from people that endeared themselves to you with their open hearts and yes, that southern charm.
Karen White’s books embody all that is Southern fiction. It isn’t just a quick beach read, but consequently balances the line of seriousnesses, nostalgia, and lightheartedness. Her books make you ponder as they invoke historical and period elements while still being easy reads. I continued to soak up Karen White’s books before and after I finally made my way to Chucktown, and while I eagerly anticipate the next book in the Tradd Street series, it was another book by Karen based in a town called Biloxi that has even this Gemini who can never decide, declaring a favorite book as well as the ultimate beach read.
The Katrina Trees
For people who seek the peacefulness of coastal living, there is also that duality of it being treacherous and fierce with the fury of Mother Nature. Few people understand, yet many judge others for it. Hurricane Katrina opened America’s eyes as well as the world to the destruction that was and is wrought during hurricanes, as well as inequality both economically and racially. It raised questions of property insurance, evacuations, and the most crucial yet incredibly divided one: Should we re-build in areas prone to natures wrath?
The Beach Trees more familiarly known as Katrina Trees, were ravaged by Hurricane Katrina leaving only the trunks. In a testament to strength and perseverance three artists created approximately fifty sculptures from these trunks displayed through out the Mississippi Gulf Coast. It is a sign that even in our darkest moments, beauty will rise again and that at its core is what the novel, The Beach Trees, is about.
The Beach Trees
Julie Holt is a young woman who is still struggling to come to terms with her sister who disappeared when she was a teenager. She befriends a southern artist who tells her stories about her home and family, despite not having been back for many years. Suddenly passing away, the artists bequeathes a painting, as well as her young son, surprising Julie. Filled with the stories of the South, but still filled with so many questions, Julie and her friend’s young son travel to Biloxi, Mississippi to find answers and reconnect with the boys family. It is there that Julie learns of her connection to the hurricane ravaged town and the boy she has taken into her care.
Ultimately, The Beach Trees is a love letter to a city and a region that refused to give up after being the Ground Zero for Katrina’s destruction, despite what people said about the rebuilding process. It is a testament that love doesn’t die, no matter how much it can be broken down and ravaged. It can be found again, it can be rebuilt, and it can be stronger then before.
The Beach Trees is a novel of human nature and human preservation.
As the protagonist asks “Why did some of the oaks die and some survive?” and another character asks “Why do some people stay after a hurricane and why do some never come back?”
Why indeed? It doesn’t mean one person is worse then the other, just that we are all different and one human’s perseverance is not necessarily another ones. How we handle tragedy is uniquely our own, just as our triumphs are. The people who live along the coast share a special love and respect for Neptune’s ocean. One that makes it certain whether it is one person or one hundred that rebuilding and triumph WILL happen as with all tragedies. We will rise, how we do so, is solely up to us.
Have you read The Beach Trees? What is your favorite book? Have you seen the Katrina trees?