Cephalopod Coffeehouse June 2017–THE SUFFERING TREE-A Review

0ed81-coffeehouseHi there! Welcome one and all to the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, a cozy gathering of book lovers, meeting to discuss their thoughts regarding the tomes they enjoyed most over the previous month. Pull up a chair, order your cappuccino and join in the fun.

This month I’m featuring a paranormal YA story that has a dash of romance and dash more controversy. THE SUFFERING TREE by Elle Cosimano has been getting very mixed reviews, but I liked the story, even as I struggled with some of the plot-points. Also, the blurb doesn’t mention that the MC has a SERIOUS emotional problem which manifests as cutting. Again, controversy.

About the book:
“It’s dark magic brings him back.”
Tori Burns and her family left D.C. for claustrophobic Chaptico, Maryland, after suddenly inheriting a house under mysterious circumstances. That inheritance puts her at odds with the entire town, especially Jesse Slaughter and his family—it’s their generations-old land the Burns have “stolen.” But none of that seems to matter after Tori witnesses a young man claw his way out of a grave under the gnarled oak in her new backyard.

Nathaniel Bishop may not understand what brought him back, but it’s clear to Tori that he hates the Slaughters for what they did to him centuries ago. Wary yet drawn to him by a shared sense of loss, she gives him shelter. But in the wake of his arrival comes a string of troubling events—including the disappearance of Jesse Slaughter’s cousin—that seem to point back to Nathaniel.

As Tori digs for the truth—and slowly begins to fall for Nathaniel—she uncovers something much darker in the tangled branches of the Slaughter family tree. In order to break the centuries-old curse that binds Nathaniel there and discover the true nature of her inheritance, Tori must unravel the Slaughter family’s oldest and most guarded secrets. But the Slaughters want to keep them buried… at any cost.

From award-winning author Elle Cosimano comes a haunting, atmospheric thriller perfect to hand to readers of the Mara Dyer trilogy and Bone Gap.

My Review:
Trigger warning: this book has intense and graphically described instances of the MC cutting her skin as a means to cope with her grief and isolation.

16 year old Tori Burns is new to rural Chaptico, Maryland. Her adoptive mother, brother and herself mysteriously inherited twenty acres of land and a home smack dab in the middle of the Slaughter farm, bequeathed by Al Senior upon his death several months ago. It was just in time, too, as Tori’s family had been recently evicted from their apartment. (There’s some shenanigans about this that I’ll describe later.)

Tori hasn’t been the same since her adoptive father died a year ago. Since then, she’s quit swimming–though she was an expert swimmer–because she can’t imagine doing it without her father cheering her on. Also, she’s begun cutting her skin to mask the grief she’s experiencing. Her arms and legs are covered in scars, and she regularly presses on healing cuts to induce pain when necessary. She’s an outsider in her school which has lots and lots of Slaughter kids, all of whom have the status. Jesse Slaughter is the typical king of the school, and Tori can’t figure out why he’s talking to her and asking her to Homecoming.

One night, when the pain is too great, Tori runs out to the small graveyard on the edge of the property and digs a sharp branch into her arm. The blood shed releases a centuries-old curse and, inexplicably, a man from his shallow grave. Tori’s appropriately horrified by the advent of this former-servant of age-old Slaughter Farm, Nathaniel, and that’s only the beginning. She’s plagued by nightmares of the Chaptico Witch, Emmeline, who was the love of Nathaniel back in the seventeenth century.

So, you can see, this was a really different plot line. The POV shifts between 1690s Nathaniel’s memories, the present-day, and dreams/visions Tori experiences from Emmeline’s magic. Because, she was a witch, and she did love Nathaniel enough to preserve him until he could fulfill his sworn duty to protect her.

There are many interesting themes here: dealing with grief, learning about your history, becoming the person you were meant to be, doing the right thing, as well as the folly of greed and the horror of locking down one’s family skeletons. I think I didn’t really get hooked until about a third of the way through, mostly because I was a little stupefied by some of the issues Tori faces.

See, her mom is a volunteer art teacher. Her father dies and has no life insurance, leaving them essentially destitute. They have no other family and are on the verge of eviction. Sorry, I’d be working at a paying job, folks. And, the grief really isn’t an excuse for me. The whole set-up seemed shady, and it put me off. I almost had less trouble accepting the magical resurrection of Nathaniel than their real-life crisis of near-homelessness. Also, her mom is practically unable to keep this family together. Beyond driving and painting, she has virtually no life skills despite being a mother for 16+ years. It was insulting, honestly. So, shenanigans. I call it.

The isolation Tori experienced was far easier to accept as a reader. New girl in a small town. She’s odd and weird. No doubt she’ll struggle to fit in. The double-crosses were to be expected, and I didn’t think that was a deficit. Plot-wise, I liked the interwoven POVs and I liked Nathaniel, a lot. Tori, at times, seems deliberately obtuse, but she comes to terms with her position in the tangled history with Nathaniel, Emmeline and the Slaughters past and present. It doesn’t help that the current Slaughters are experiencing unprecedented tragedy–including blight, fire and death–and they pin it to the arrival of Tori and her family. It’s a mystery why these events are occurring, to everyone but Nathaniel, Tori and an elderly black neighbor who knows more than her family with believe.

I liked how this turned out in the end, with much faster pacing and a tumultuous climax. For me, the book is an interesting allegory for the power of greed to destroy and of love to reclaim/redeem. That said, it’s still troubling how little assistance was available for Tori, with both her grief and her cutting.

Interested? You can find THE SUFFERING TREE on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBooks and your local library, probably. It released a few weeks ago. I received a review copy via NetGalley.

Thanks for popping in. Be sure to check out the fave read of my fellow Coffeehouse reviewers by clicking the links below. Keep reading my friends!

10 thoughts on “Cephalopod Coffeehouse June 2017–THE SUFFERING TREE-A Review

  1. Sounds interesting. I think the graphic descriptions of the cutting would be too much for me. Cutting creeps me out. I just don’t understand it. But then, I don’t get self harm in general.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • Agreed. It was odd that there wasn’t a warning on the book blurb, to be honest, due to the trigger factor. It’s interesting how the cutting becomes a part of the blood magic that sets this story in motion. Some reviewers had a problem with that, in that almost glorifies what is a real emotional disturbance.

  2. This sounds like a unique concept for a story, at least to me. It seems to be right on the cusp of being groundbreaking or exploitive. Pretty sure it’s not for me, but I admit, I’m intrigued.

  3. I get your quibbles on the plot points, but maybe being a YA novel, the author didn’t feel like they needed to make that much sense since it’s ostensibly aimed at readers who wouldn’t make those connections.
    As far as the MC cutting herself, it feels a little exploitative, but without reading the book I can’t be sure. Based on your review it seems like a plot device to get Nathanial out of the ground. Otherwise, it sounds like an interesting story.

    • You are right that I have “adult” quibbles, but sometimes it’s easier to take issue with the nonsensical issues in reality, because we suspend disbelief in the magical/fantasy aspects.

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