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.
Dumbfounded. Gobsmacked. Speechless. Blown away. Overwhelmed… <<< That was me after finishing The Sweet Gum Tree at 3am this morning.
What an absolutely stunning book! I picked it up yesterday afternoon and didn’t put it down until the very last page. Absolutely amazing. There aren’t enough adjectives for me to express how much I loved this book.
I cried. Quite a lot. You know when you’re reading a book and you know you’re going to get your heart broken, but you just can’t help turn the pages… and you can feel your soul investing it’s every ounce into the characters and their stories. Your emotions slipping through your fingers and out of your control, sucked in by the words on the page… that was this book.
“I’m Frank Anderson’s son and I live in a junkyard. Who’d want to marry me?”
“I’ll marry you,” I told him decisively. “That way, we can both have kids someday.”
He grinned, those dimples emerging in a blaze of glory. “Yeah, you probably would.”
This was one of those books that makes my other half grumble “You and that bloody Kindle,” because I don’t react to any conversation, chaos or prodding.
Nick and Alix’s story is so emotional. By 50% I felt like I’d already read an entire book. It was torturous. The love in the book is both palpable and painful. It’s an example of innocent people being pulled in so many directions, torn apart and broken down due to circumstances beyond their control… due to their own honor, integrity and goodness, but the poison of others around them.
“I promise you this. I’ll love you until the day I die even if I have to live without you. And if it’s fifty years from now, you come home, Nick Anderson. Do you hear me? I’ll be waiting on you.”
Alix falls in love with Nick from an early age, when she decides to ‘save’ him from his abusive, low-life excuse for a father. The story follows them through childhood and teenage years, until they reach early adulthood… which tears them straight down the middle.
“Nick? Have you ever…”
“No. I’ve thought about it, but it never seemed right.”
“You better wait on me, damn it.”
“I don’t think I have much choice. You’re the only one I’ve ever wanted, Alix, the only one I’ll ever want. That’s a promise.”
Despite his intense love for Alix, Nick is a protector and he can’t help but gravitate towards this role. He has dark secrets that he can’t share with Alix and tragedy strikes, forcing Nick to leave town and leave Alix. And then all hell breaks loose in part two of this desperate story.
“I’m sorry, Nick,” I whispered, slipping his pendant from my neck. “I didn’t know what else to do.”
I thought I was distraught when Nick had to leave… I had no idea what was coming. Oh my goodness, my poor battered, bruised heart. It took a beating. Without giving anything away, all I will say is… Katie. Oh my God, I ugly cried like a goodun! But I always say, I don’t having my heart torn out, ripped to pieces and stomped all over, as long as it’s put back together and restored by the end of the book. And I can promise that this does have the most satisfying happy-ever-after, ever!
“God, I can’t lose you again.” His whisper was harsh, filled with pain. “Not now, when I’ve waited so long to hold you. I think it would kill me. But I’m so damn scared you’ll hate me when you find out the truth.”
Alix is brilliant. She’s great as a child, ballsy and comical, always getting up to mischief and into trouble due to her curious nature. And as she grows up, she becomes an amazing young woman. She faces so much trauma in her life and watching her slip away is awful, but she’s strong and resilient and makes you root for her to pull through.
I’d read enough to know that one of the symptoms of grief was a deep anger at the loved one who’d died, anger that impaired your judgement, made you want to scream and curse because they’d left you. But Nick hadn’t died, and I didn’t realize that I was suffering the symptoms of grief.
I think it’s safe to say, I am completely in love with Nick. Bless him! What a wonderful man. He made mistakes, yes, but oh wow, if every man was as good as Nick Anderson, what an amazing place the world would be.
“The opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference. And you couldn’t be indifferent to him if your life depended on it.”
The book ends with the perfect perfect epilogue. I don’t need to say any more than that, it’s just perfect.
This was a 5+ star read for me. I’m going to go now and look into buying it in paperback because I’m going to force it upon anyone who will give me the time of day. I know a lot of my followers have already read it but a lot still have it on their TBR list… if that’s you, bump it up and make a priority. If you haven’t marked this as ‘to read’, I strongly recommend that you do. It’s honestly amazing and so beautiful and it’s certainly one that will sit with me for a long long time to come.
A sweet gum tree is the chameleon of wood, it’s corky exterior hiding it’s inner ability to imitate anything from cherry to mahogany. But it’s real value, one unrealized by most people, is it’s deep red heart, steady and strong.
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