The apocalypse, when it comes, in Ali Shaw’s The Trees, is not a gradual process. It is immediate, it is all-consuming and it instantly alters reality for the characters. Just as they are not given time to process the change, so also is the reader thrust from the very beginning into the immediacy of it all. But unlike any other apocalypse, which begins with death; The Trees seems to begin with an outburst of life.
The apocalypse is this –nature has taken back the Earth; or at least Britain. Over the course of a few minutes, trees and plants have destroyed any trace of human civilization and have taken over homes, roads, vehicles –everything.
This leaves our protagonist Adrien, floundering in the midst of a situation that he wishes someone else would solve for him. He is also worried about his wife, Michelle, away on business in Ireland. He soon meets Hannah, a natural green thumb, who is overjoyed at the new state of the world, and her teenage son Seb. They set out together, Adrien, to find his wife; and Hannah and Seb, to find Zach, Hannah’s forester brother. On the way, they meet Hiroko, a Japanese-American teenager, with brilliant survival skills. Their journey is dark, violent and disturbing.
The most interesting part of the book for me, was to watch the characters find the sides of themselves that they did not know they had. Adrien, who is definitely unheroic, finds himself to be a “hero” after all–or maybe it is just our understanding of heroism that is different. Hannah, who believes in nature as a positive force, is forced to reckon with nature as being destructive; and this is mirrored in her personal internal journey as well. Hiroko, initially reticent and unwilling to talk about herself, seems to open up a bit eventually.
The other part of the book I liked was the interweaving of supernatural/surreal elements into the narrative. There are mysterious stick figures, known as ‘whisperers’ who only Adrien seems to notice. And the majestic kirin, who show up as some sort of guardians for our characters. These otherworldly elements do not seem so out of place in the wold that has been created here. They simply lend an understanding here that more is happening than the reader understands; and the payoff at the end more than makes up for this aura of mystery.
Overall, the characters are well-written and believable. Hiroko, seems to be represented well, but I would like to know what a Japanese-American would think of her.
The pacing of the book, while generally tight, seemed to me to lag in places. I can’t really point out where (because, spoilers!), but generally at these times the characters have usually slipped into some sort of philosophical discussion. While these philosophical bits do add to the book, they also put the forward movement of the story on hold, and that gets a bit annoying.
In a world saturated with post-apocalyptic/dystopian narratives, The Trees does stand apart, however, because of this philosophical bent. It is just the right amount of intellectual, and the ending especially can encourage quite a bit of discussion. Which is why, while the book is a good book to read alone, it is even better for a readalong or a book club. Because once you’re done reading, you will want to talk about it.
FTC disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for this honest review.
Author Bio: http://www.bloomsbury.com/author/ali-shaw/
The Many Selves of Katherine North, by Emma Geen; because foxes!