Friday, February 26, 2010

The Crying Tree by Naseem Rakha

Genre: General Fiction
Copyright: 2009
Pages: 304
Book Source: Own Purchase

Irene Stanley thought her world had come to an end when her husband finds their 15-year-old son, Shep, murdered in their Oregon home. Daniel Robbin, who had spent his teenage years in and out of trouble, gave himself up to the police and was given the state’s harshest sentence: death by lethal injection..

Now, nineteen years later, as the superintendent of the state penitentiary prepares to execute Robbin, Irene Stanley must reveal what she has been hiding from her family. That in order to survive the anger and grief she had at losing her son, she not only had forgiven the man who killed him, but had come to be his friend.

Her revelation stuns her family, church and community and cracks open the secrets that had been surrounding her son’s death. Secrets that reveal how little she understood Shep, her husband, or herself.

Achingly sad, that's the most fitting words I can find to describe this novel. Naseem Rakha writes beautifully and with such depth of emotion at times I felt the suffocation that such pain and grief brings. Maybe the death of my baby daughter brought these feelings to the forefront, brought home the honesty and realness of Irene's journey. Whilst the circumstances are world's apart, the death of a child for whatever reason is tragic and although I never withdrew completely from life or family, or resorted to alcohol or pills to numb myself, I'd be lying if I said the thought wasn't tempting.

For me The Crying Tree wasn't a book about the death penalty, although this debut novel grew from the author's experience as a journalist covering Oregon's first execution in 30 years. The essence of the story is immeasurable pain and grief followed by a moment of grace and a woman's journey to reach that point of grace enabling her to resume living, forever changed ... but living.

"You ever done that? Forgiven someone even though they don't deserve it?"
"No," Mason said. "No, I've never done that."
"Well, I got to say, it fills you. Whther you want it to or not, that kind of thing, it just fills you. It's like pain and grace all tied up in one."

The story transitions easily from Illinois to Blaine, Oregon, from the time of Shep's death in 1985 to the time of Daniel Robbin's scheduled execution in 2004, and from a number of viewpoints; family members, Tab Mason, the compassionate prison superintendent and Daniel. The characters are portrayed in an honest and compelling fashion bringing added dimension to the already heartwrenching story of a family torn apart by tragedy, eaten up by hate and alienated from each other by their individual grief.

When Irene's connection with Daniel is disclosed, 19 year old secrets are also revealed, secrets that don't alter the fact that a boy's life was taken, but they explain the subtle feeling of 'wrongness' I picked up early in the story. They show the damaging ripple effect, that family and community members' narrow-mindedness and lack of acceptance can have and they reinforced my initial dislike of Shep's father, Nate.

Emotionally hard hitting but with a delicacy that brings tears to the eyes, there's not a lot of joy in this story but the end brings the reader a sense of relieved acceptance in the power of forgiveness and the bond of family.

Visit Naseem Rakha's website to find out more about this author, there's some interesting clips about her research for The Crying Tree.

This month on The Eclectic Reader one lucky reader can win The Iron King OR Ecstasy Unveiled OR Captive of Sin. Check this blog post for details. International entrants welcome.


  1. Achingly sad, that sounds intense, and a bit sad for me

  2. Definitely sounds like it is too sad for me to tackle. The emotion in your review sounds completely overwhelming, so not one I would want to read. Great review though!

    Does that put you up-to-date with your reviews? You've done so well this week.

  3. Your review was great. I think it reflected your sense of sadness well. This book sounds too sad for me, though. :( It's off my wishlist now. Thanks!

  4. B ~ sad and beautiful.

    Alaine ~ thanks, it wasn't a sob story despite being sad, very different to other contemporary stories I've read.

    Sharon ~ others have said they found the whole forgiveness, redemption side of things uplifting, I didn't ... but it was beautiful!

  5. Mmm, I really struggle with books that have children dying in it. Ever since the girls came along, I find I get to upset by things like that.

    I am amazed that the woman could forgive the boy, but as I haven't read it I cannot understand her motives. I imagine forgiveness is the only way to help ease the pain and to move forward. She is definitely a stronger woman than me.

  6. I loved this book and also rated it a 5*. To commenters - Please don't take it off your list if you think it is too sad- it's beautifully written and really does have a lot of redeeming features to it. This is one author I'm looking to read more of.

  7. Your review moved me!! I've had this book for AGES!!! I need to put it into my MUST READ pile for March!

  8. This book sounds amazing! Especially since she researched actual cases while planning the novel.

  9. Great review! This one's been on my wish list for awhile.

  10. Achingly sad = not for me. I really have to be in the mood to read one of these books. Although your excellent review makes a good case for me to try this one.

  11. Viv ~ I understand where you're coming from, there are so many different facets to this beautifully written story I think it's one you have to read yourself and make up your own mind.

    Kaye ~ totally agree with you, but some people just don't read 'sad'. There is so much more to the story that really can't be explained in a review without giving away spoilers. Do you know if the author has another book coming?

    Staci ~ I can't wait to see what you think.

    Stephanie ~ it was, you could tell the story came from a place of honesty and experience.

    Stacy ~ thanks! I hope you get a chance to pick it up, well worth the time and emotion!

    Jenny ~ that's just my feeling, this is really one you have to read and decide for yourself. Hope my review does urge you to try :-)

  12. This isn't the type of book I'd normally read, but your review has really made me want to. Just from reading the book's synopsis, it feels real. As Staci said: Your review has moved me. Thank you.

    (I'm glad Gone arrived quickly and I hope you enjoy it!)

  13. i think this one would another picoult type of a story. i might read thoroughly this one although i bet i will either hate or love the story.

    excellent review teddyree!

  14. Kudos to you Sheree. That's a very well written review.

  15. Wow.. To be honest, I like to read books that could rack me emotionally and this does sound like one. You indeed wrote a beautiful review, Alaine. I think I ought to take a course of review writing with you, seriously =)

  16. Wow Sheree...this book sounds great! I love to be pulled into a story and feel the characters pain, grief, sadness, happiness,etc. This book sounds like it did that for you.
    I am going to put it on my tbr list.

  17. I have this one here but I keep shying away from it for some reason. Now, thanks to your review, although I know it's sad, I think I should get to it sooner rather than later.


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