THE SWEET GUM TREE
Author: Katherine Allred
Sweet tea, corn bread, and soup beans—everyday fare for eight-year-old Alix French, the precocious darling of a respected southern family. But nothing was ordinary about the day she met ten-year-old Nick Anderson, a boy from the wrong side of town. Armed with only a tin of bee balm and steely determination, Alix treats the raw evidence of a recent beating that mars his back, an act that changes both of their lives forever.
Through childhood disasters and teenage woes they cling together as friendship turns to love. The future looks rosy until the fateful night when Frank Anderson, Nick’s abusive father, is shot to death in his filthy trailer.
Suddenly, Nick is gone—leaving Alix alone, confused and pregnant. For the next fifteen years she wrestles with the pain of Nick’s abandonment, a bad marriage, her family and friends. But finally, she’s starting to get her life back together. Her divorce is almost final, her business is booming, and she’s content if not happy—until the day she looks up and sees Nick standing across the counter. He’s back…and he’s not alone.
Once again Alix is plunged into turmoil and pain as Nick tries to win her love, something she resists with all her strength. Only one thing might break the protective wall she’s built around her emotions—the truth about Frank Anderson’s death. But when that truth comes out and those walls crumble, neither Alix nor Nick is prepared for the emotional explosion that could destroy as well as heal.
Katherine Allred truly has a powerful way of writing that can surely and easily evoke the emotions from within her readers.
The Sweet Gum Tree focuses on Alix French’s life. At eight years old, she met Nick Anderson, son of Frank Anderson – a person who has a marred reputation in their small town because of his filthy/repulsive ways of living. Alix made it her life mission to save Nick Anderson from everything, even from the wrath of his father. Alix befriends him and alongside with her grandfather, Judge, they welcomed Nick into the French family and offered him to house the vacant room in their barn.
As time passed by, Alix’s relationship with Nick blossomed. From just two people acknowledging each other’s presence with a nod it turned to Nick being Alix’s protector. Innocent touches turned into something more. Their relationship got deeper and deeper until they ended up having a secret relationship. Nick’s insecurities of being his father’s son and the existence of another person, Lindsey (a girl that Nick feels like protecting because of an unexplainable circumstance at that time) were the factors that hindered them from being fully and publicly together.
Everything went downhill, when Frank Anderson was shot dead and Nick was the primary suspect for the crime. This situation forced them to be apart from each other. Nick was sent to the army, leaving Alix alone and (without Nick’s knowledge) pregnant.
What will happen now when they meet again after fifteen years? Fifteen long years with so many life events that happened…Marriage. Death. Divorce. What will happen to Alix when she finally learns the truth behind Frank Anderson’s death? Will Alix be able to muster and tell Nick about their daughter? Will their past encumber them to have a future?
I love how the book opens from an eight year old girl’s perspective; it’s just a refreshing POV to go through. How easy life could be (playing and just reading books) and what concerns someone at that age have. But in some ways Alix is quite mature for her age. Who at the age of eight decides to save someone else’s life and consider it her life mission? It’s not an easy task to do. I love how Alix embarks on that task; she does it in her own little ways and ends up being effective in bringing life into Nick.
Friendship, love and heartaches were explored here in this book and I love every single bit of it. I’m a sucker for this kind of story. It just tugs at my heartstrings and turns me into a leaking faucet. Alix and Nick’s friendship is just one of the wonderful and cute relationships that I have ever seen. I was laughing really hard when Alix was saying to her family members that someday she’s going to marry Nick and have kids with him. Her innocence is precious. I also love how Nick responds to Alix’s inquisitive ways, even if it puts him on the spot. You can see Nick being a gentleman about it and mature for his age.
But with that closeness, affection and chemistry they have since they were kids, they really are bound to slip up and fall in love with other person. I think, it’s kind of expected to happen in relationships like that (or the author just made it so real, that my mind is thinking that it’s really that expected to happen). Even though their relationship as a couple was a secret, you can feel the love and devotion they have for each other. It’s strong that not a single problem/heartache can put a stop to their feelings. Alix and Nick’s love for each other is the kind of love that lasts a lifetime.
I commend Allred’s take on how everything unfolded. I don’t know if my mind was not just conjuring guesses at that time I was reading this or Allred just perfectly managed not to drop hints at all about the possible truth that involves Lindsey, Nick and Frank Anderson’s death. I never would’ve guessed that that would be the truth. She put up a sneaky move on how everything’s woven into the story. Knowing about Alix’s feelings about the whole fiasco and then just learning the whole truth coming from Lindsey’s mouth, left me emotionally messed up. There was a lot to take in. I felt like I was really Alix with all these emotions bottled up inside me and then suddenly a bomb was dropped on my lap … Too much!
Emotions run high in The Sweet Gum Tree. One minute I’m jumping up and down and then the next minute I’m filled with hatred towards a character or two. But towards the conclusion of the book, you’ll just end up understanding them and the circumstances that they have gone through. The emotions were real. You can certainly feel everything the characters were feeling. The story ripped my heart out. It broke me but managed to put me back up with that kind of ending. The ending made me cry a lot because it was just perfect for the story. You will feel everything seeping into your bones and into your heart.
“Do you want to know the real reason I came back, Alix? It was because of you. You’re my roots. Wherever you are would be home to me…I’ve never stopped loving you. I won’t give up that easily.” – Nick Anderson